Inspirational success stories often come from the most unexpected places and the story of “Fisherman’s Friends,” is no exception. The film, released last year in the UK but now available on Netflix, tells the true story of a group of Cornish fishermen whose singing for the local community turned into a recording contract through a joke some London music execs played on their colleague.
Danny (Daniel Mays) headed out with his friends to Port Isaac on what was supposed to be a weekend of luxury yachting. When that didn’t happen, the co-workers and friends happened upon an outdoor concert given by a group of local fishermen singing traditional sea shanties. The arrogant and somewhat self-important Londoners just laughed at the group but boss Troy (Noel Clarke) tells Danny that he thinks they should sign the group. Danny reluctantly agrees to try but Troy and the others strand Danny in the seaside village without telling him it’s all a sham.
Christian Brassington, Noel Clarke, and Daniel Mays in "Fisherman's Friends." © 2020 Samuel Goldwyn Films. All Rights Reserved.
Meanwhile, Danny presents himself to the group and when he broaches the idea of recording an album, they all bust out laughing. Jim (James Purefoy) tells Danny that they are first and foremost, men of the sea with a job to do for their families. Rowan (Sam Swainsbury), however, seriously needs money or he’ll lose the community pub, The Golden Lion. Rowan tells Danny that it’s Jim he’ll need to convince if he wants to make headway.
Making every effort to get to know Jim better, Danny goes fishing with the guys and experiences their life firsthand. The old salts rib him with all kinds of superstitions and Danny falls for each one. However, the more time Danny spends with the members of the group, the more he respects the strong sense of community and friendship he witnesses among these rough-and-tumble men.
When Jim agrees to try a single album, he makes sure Danny knows that their real jobs will always come first. Danny gives his word. When Jim tells Danny that in Cornwall, a man’s word is considered as strong as Cornish oak, Danny’s a bit nervous. His dismay skyrockets when he calls Troy with his success and finds out he’s been the butt of Troy’s joke.
Thus begins Danny’s long road to find another label that will accept the Fisherman’s Friends for recording. They experience some humiliations and culture clashes. One charming scene has the group in a London pub when they go for recording. The young people there don’t even know what a sea shanty is so Jim starts singing, “(What Shall We Do With A) Drunken Sailor” and the whole pub joins in. Another scene shows just what these men are made of. When invited to sing the national anthem for the Queen’s birthday on TV, they confound everyone by singing not “God Save the Queen,” but the Cornish national anthem.
What makes these simple fishermen from Port Isaac a hit with everyone they meet is their absolute authenticity. They never pretend to be more than who they are. They’re not out for fame or fortune, they just celebrate their long friendship and ties to the community by singing traditional songs that have been sung by generations of those who work on the sea.
James Purefoy (center) and cast of "Fisherman's Friends." © 2020 Samuel Goldwyn Films. All Rights Reserved.
It is this authenticity that converts Danny from a stuck-up London music exec to a new member of the community of Port Isaac. This true story not only inspires but asks the audience to think about what is truly important in life. Danny, speaking with Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton), Jim’s daughter, tells her, “Everything I thought I cared about: the money, the status, the flat, the car, the toys; none of them made me happy, but being here with you and Tamsyn (Meadow Nobrega) did.”
If you decide to have the pleasure of watching the film, once you know about Fisherman’s Friends and their incredible story, I bet you’ll do the same thing I did: go on YouTube and watch as many of their music videos as possible! You’ll be humming them all throughout the day with a smile on your face.
About the Author
Sister Hosea Rupprecht is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, a religious community dedicated to evangelization with the media. She holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto and an MA in Media Literacy from Webster University in St. Louis.
Sr. Hosea is director of the East Coast office of the Pauline Center for Media Studies, based in Staten Island, NY, and speaks on media literacy and faith to catechists, parents, youth, and young adults. Together with Father Chip Hines, she is the co-host of Searchlight, a Catholic movie review show on Catholic TV. Sr. Hosea is the author of How to Watch Movies with Kids: A Values-Based Strategy, released by Pauline Books & Media.
For the past 15 years, she has facilitated various film dialogues for both children and adults, as well as given presentations on integrating culture, faith and media.