From Billy Elliot and Brassed Off to Calendar Girls, we love a comedy about plucky and slightly eccentric Brits. No wonder then that the utterly charming Fisherman’s Friends, set in Cornwall’s beautiful Port Isaac, was box office gold when it was released in 2019.
And now we’re in for a second helping, which will no doubt trigger a stampede to the South West as the ferry and airport chaos continues.
Based on the real story of a group of Cornish fishermen (the film focuses on Jago, Jim, Leadville and Rowan, fictional versions of the group’s real members), whose lusty recitals of old sea shanties won them a £1 million record contract in 2010, turning them into the world’s oldest ‘buoy band’, its warmth, wit and poignancy tugged at the heartstrings.
And the follow-up film, Fisherman’s Friends: One And All, is every bit as moving as they try to deal with fame and that ‘difficult second album’ syndrome. Particularly as they’re in mourning and, deep down, they feel more comfortable at sea than in an auditorium full of people.
Fisherman’s Friends is returning to the cinema with a second film, One And All. It is based on a real story of a group of Cornish fishermen who won a £1m record deal
It’s a few months after the last film ended and the band are on the crest of a wave but struggling to cope (a scene where they’re forced into media training is very amusing). They’re also grieving for Jago, who died at the end of the first film, and his son Jim (played again by James Purefoy) is at his lowest ebb.
He’s drinking and falling out with his colleagues and his behaviour results in the band being dropped by their record label. To earn the chance to release their second album, dedicated to Jago, Jim’s indomitable mother Maggie (Ten Percent actress Maggie Steed) hatches a plan for them to play at Glastonbury.
Meanwhile, Jim finds unlikely solace with a former wild child singer who’s come to live alone in Cornwall.
We wrote the script during lockdown and suddenly we all had this shared experience of being isolated and people struggling,’ says the film’s writer, producer and director Meg Leonard. ‘It felt like this mental health storyline was relevant for this moment in time, and because James is so talented, the film goes places people don’t usually go.’
James Purefoy and his co-stars breaking into song at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall. The film has been filmed in some beautiful Cornish locations
The delve into grief and mental health is based partially on the real band’s story. In 2013, singer Trevor Grills and promoter Paul McMullen were killed in a freak accident when a heavy door collapsed on them before a concert.
The band didn’t perform together for a year after the tragedy.
‘This band’s had its fair share of grief,’ says Maggie Steed, who got to know the band and their FWAGS (Fishermen’s Wives And Girlfriends) while working on both films. ‘There was this terrible accident, and for a long time they stopped singing, touring, everything.
‘By then the film had been mooted, but they put that on hold too. This is a very tight-knit community.
They all worked together and were in each other’s lives, so it’s a desperately important part of the Fisherman’s Friends story. You have this band of men who need each other, but men often don’t talk about these things.
This band’s had its fair share of grief. They need each other. We explore that feeling of being lost. – Maggie Steed
‘It explores that feeling of being lost and not knowing how to cope.’
Help for Jim comes from singer Aubrey Flynn, who’s played by real life Irish rock star and poet Imelda May in her first acting role.
‘It was difficult having to kiss James Purefoy, but somebody had to do it,’ laughs Imelda.
‘I was delighted that formed part of my day’s work – who wouldn’t be? I’m just hoping there’s a Fisherman’s Friends Three!’
Once again filming took place in and around Port Isaac, the real-life home of the original Fisherman’s Friends, and in the evenings the cast would join the real group on the quay to sing. ‘I can’t tell you what a beautiful experience making this film was,’ says Imelda.
‘One minute you’d be singing with the real group by the quay or in the pub, and the next we’d be filming one of their songs on a beautiful cliff top. It was like being in a very happy bubble.’
Imelda even sang with the group at Glastonbury this year when they found they were both on the bill.
As for more films, Imelda may get her wish as ideas are already being floated for a third, maybe taking the group to Australia. Meanwhile, Fisherman’s Friends – The Musical, based on the films, will be touring the UK, starting in Plymouth in September, with plans for a West End transfer.
For Meg, who first pitched the idea of a film about this group of unruly Cornish singers more than a decade ago after seeing them on television just hours after she’d given birth to her son, this is a story that could run and run.
‘When the first film came out we had such lovely comments from people all over the world,’ she says.
‘These aren’t niche films even though they’re about a specific group of singing fishermen from Cornwall. We’re making films about real life that will hopefully make people laugh and cry and feel something.’
Fisherman’s Friends: One And All opens in cinemas on 19 August