‘Fisherman’s Friends’: Underdog Music Group’s Rise to Fame Is the Uplifting Story We Need Right Now

The surprising true story of a Cornish music group’s unlikely rise to fame is brought to life in “Fisherman’s Friends,” an uplifting comedy set all the way back in 2010. Daniel Mays stars as Danny Anderson, a London-based music executive whose world is transformed after encountering Fisherman’s Friends, an all-male singing group composed entirely of fishermen.

It’s a bachelor party, of all things, that sets in motion a chain of events that forever changes the life of several people. Danny isn’t the groom-to-be — he’s married to his job, as we come to find out — but one of his best friends, lawyer Henry (Christian Brassington). Also on this trip, a getaway to the small seaside town of Port Isaac, Cornwall, is Danny’s colleague Driss (Vahid Gold) and their boss, Troy (Noel Clarke). At one point, the guys stop to listen to Fisherman’s Friends, a local group that performs weekly on the port to the delight of the locals, most of them who have some connection to one or more of the musicians. Fisherman’s Friends sing sea shanties, a catchy genre of music that was apparently “the rock ‘n’ roll of 1752.”

At first glance, Fisherman’s Friends seem nothing more than a quaint, regional act, but after a listen, it’s obvious that these guys have real talent. As a joke, shallow Troy tells Danny that he has to sign the band. Taking things even further, the guys sneak away when he’s talking to them, leaving his bag behind. Fortunately, one of the members, gruff Jim (James Purefoy), runs a bed and breakfast with his daughter, beautiful and smart single mom Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton).

“Fisherman’s Friends” sees Mays, a versatile actor who has previously had supporting roles in films like “1917” and “Atonement” and most recently co-starred in the Netflix series “White Lines,” take on a romantic leading man role for the first time. “I played so many intense characters over the years, so it was nice, in a way, to take my foot off the gas and use a different element of my acting ability,” he revealed to Entertainment Voice. “It’s a nice, gentle performance. He goes on an amazing journey throughout the film. He starts out very narcissistic and arrogant, but he’s trying to get a heart of gold, so the challenge of it was to make him always likable. If you detested him too much in the beginning, you would never really go on his journey.”

Fortunately, we’re on Danny’s side throughout most of the film. However, while most of Fisherman’s Friends are keen on the idea of a record deal, Jim has a harder time warming up to Danny and what he represents. This makes for some great scenes between Mays and Purefoy. Just as is the case with Mays, this is a different kind of role for Purefoy, playing rough sailor as opposed to the dashing sort of man he usually plays.

“He’s such an amazing character, James,” said Mays. “He’s obviously got such a wealth of experience. He’s done so many great roles over the years. He was in his element down there. He really loved the character of Jim. I had some great scenes with him. He’s very weary in the beginning, Jim, isn’t he?”

As for Alwyn, Middleton brings strength to the role of this woman who is very family-oriented, yet has an independent streak. Her relationship with Danny, which starts out antagonistic but becomes mutually beneficial, is heartwarming to watch unfold, especially as Danny becomes something of a father figure to her young daughter, Tamsin (Meadow Nobrega).

“She was tremendous,” said Mays of Middleton. “Obviously, her character, she’s a single parent. I think that element of Danny Anderson stepping in and being that father figure for the young daughter is a key element of the story.”

But “Fisherman’s Friends” isn’t all hugs and rainbows. Danny does find himself in a sticky situation when he agrees to help out Rowan (Sam Swainsbury), a young family man who’s part of the group, with his business, the Golden Lion, a pub that he inherited from his father that is the heart of Port Isaac. There’s also the tiny detail of Troy having lied about his interest in Fisherman’s Friends, which means Danny has to go to bat for them all alone. 

In addition to the ensemble cast, which also includes distinguished character actors David Hayman and Dave Johns, the actual Fisherman’s Friends also pop up, and not just in cameos playing pub patrons. They also lend their voices to the soundtrack, and according to Mays, the singing we hear is actually their voices blended with the voices of the actors. “They just, literally, welcomed us with open arms,” Mays said of the musicians. “They’re such a great group of guys.” 

Port Isaac is a character in itself, as the stunning seaside location serves to enhance the story and the performances. “I just allowed the whole environment and landscape to seep into the performance,” recalled Mays. “It’s one of the most tranquil and beautiful parts of the U.K. that you could ever wish to visit.”

But the sea is fickle, and we see this firsthand in “Fisherman’s Friends.” Mays let us in on what it’s really like to film in a boat. “Some of those days at sea were particularly windy. It was very rocky, and it was very telling who became seasick and who didn’t. I have this image of the focus puller on the crew who — I now know what it means when someone goes completely green. He was violently sick over the side of the boat, as was the boom operator. It’s very strange how being at sea affects some people and not others.”

As for Mays, he didn’t experience any of the effects until afterwards. “Later on that evening, that’s when I started to get sea legs. Apparently, the crystals in your ears become dislodged, which makes you feel like you’re still at sea when you’re on dry land.” 

Danny and Fisherman’s Friends end up getting creative to catch the attention of the rest of the U.K. However, in the end, the guys stay true to themselves, preferring their hometown, their strong friendships and familial ties to fame and fortune. Even today, the real Fisherman’s Friends perform weekly in Port Isaac during the summer.

Said Mays, “That’s another strung to its bow the film has, that it’s about friendship and belonging and community, and I think we all need that in our lives, especially with what we’re going through at the moment.”

Fisherman’s Friends” releases July 24 on VOD.