PG-13 | 1h 52m | Comedy, Drama, Music | March 15, 2019 (UK)
Recently, some friends of mine traveled throughout the county of Cornwall, located in southwest England and home to the Cornish. Cornwall is known for its rich maritime heritage, which is celebrated by the many rich sea shanties (nautical work songs) that are sung by its seagoing folks. My friends raved about their lovely time and how unique Cornwall was in comparison to other parts of England.
Indeed, when I researched the place, I could see what they were talking about. From the majestic, sea-sculpted cliffs up and down Cornwall’s coastlines to its ancient standing stones, I was thoroughly impressed and added it to my “must visit” list.
So, when I discovered that director Chris Foggin’s 2019 film “Fisherman’s Friends” was about the real-life signing of sea shanty singers to a major record label, I just had to see if it was any good: It’s not good at all—it’s spectacular—in an earthy (or watery, in this case) and earnest way.
This biopic begins with four cynical record execs, who travel from London to a small Cornish fishing village for a stag weekend (otherwise known as a bachelor party). One of the men, Danny (Daniel Mays) seems to be even more jaded than his pessimistic comrades. For instance, he regards monogamy as being unnatural.
On the other side of the equation, we are introduced to the various denizens of the village, including rambunctious Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton); her father, fisherman Jim (James Purefoy); and his friends and co-workers Jago (David Hayman), Leadville (Dave Johns), and Rowan (Sam Swainsbury).
When Danny and his city slicker pals arrive at the village, there are quite a few jarring (although humorously delivered) culture clashes between the execs and the proudly traditional folks of the village, who hold camaraderie and truthfulness as sacrosanct.
Things take a turn for the unexpected when Danny and his friends show up at a sea shanty being performed by the fishermen. During the performance, Danny’s friends form a deceptive plan: Since Danny’s one of the junior men of their organization, they want him to prove his worth by signing the fishermen to their music label. But when Danny falls for their hoax, they suddenly vanish. Their excuse is that something urgent came up—yet Danny is still tasked with signing singers.
Danny tries his best to ingratiate himself with the fishermen and offers them a contract on the spot while visiting them in a local pub, but to no avail. They don’t trust him based on their wariness of outsiders. In a last-ditch effort, Danny goes out on a fishing trip with the men to try to impress them.
After Danny finally convinces the group to give his offer a shot, his fellow execs admit that they’ve been pulling a fast one on him the whole time. But now Danny’s got a problem: He’s already given fisherman Jim his word that the offer is real, and a man’s word is something that Jim considers to be “as strong as a Cornish oak.”
As Danny begins to appreciate the old customs, traditions, and values of the villagers, he likewise tries to figure out how to convince his major record label that signing a large group of singing fishermen is good for business. A romantic subplot also develops, as Danny also has eyes for Alwyn but isn’t quite sure that she feels the same way about him.
Where Honesty Is Sacred
Although the film’s content doesn’t really tread any new water (couldn’t help the pun), the way the story unfolds is natural, heartfelt, and unforced. Daniel Mays is convincing as a somewhat bumbling Londoner who is out of his depth in the picturesque fishing village, where he realizes that big-city machinations don’t mean a thing in a land where people will give their lives for their words, and a hard day’s work is a ritual of tradition along with some drinking and calloused hands.
All of the actors’ performances are likewise great, such as James Purefoy as the perpetually suspicious fisherman Jim.
“Fisherman’s Friends” reminds us of the importance of friends and community, while not taking itself too seriously. Come for the beautiful singing, and stay for the uplifting story.
Director: Chris Foggin
Starring: James Purefoy, Meadow Nobrega, and David Hayman
MPAA Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Release Date: March 15, 2019 (UK)
Rated: 4 stars out of 5