At the start of last year, when a Scottish postman’s recording of a 19th-century New Zealand whaling ballad went viral on TikTok, sea shanties briefly became the hottest musical genre around. In the doldrums of lockdown number three, it was a strange yet oddly nourishing moment: social media feeds were suddenly thronged with bearded men in ribbed knitwear singing about sugar and tea and rum, along with anyone else who wanted to add their voice to the international chorus.
The makers of Fisherman’s Friends: One and All must wish the trend had held off until this summer – though for a film that makes a virtue of not keeping up with the times, perhaps it’s only right that it should feel a good 18 months off the pace. This is a sequel to the rickety 2019 comedy Fisherman’s Friends, inspired by the true story of a Cornish all-male folk choir who were improbably signed by Universal Records in 2010, and whose subsequent album became a top 10 hit. With the band’s rise covered in the first instalment, One and All is every inch the Difficult Second Feature, and smacks of having been brainstormed in a conference room – you can almost hear the soul-deadening squeak of marker on whiteboard as each (fictional) episodic subplot gives way to the next.
It’s all go for this lot: someone falls down a tin mine, someone else is thrown out by his wife over a groupie’s lewd text message, while founding member Jim (James Purefoy) has to contend with alcoholism, a new group member (Richard Harrington) who’s not only Welsh but a farmer, and the loss of his late father Jago (David Hayman), whose ghost will occasionally materialise in moments of crisis, like a glow-less Obi-Wan Kenobi, to offer either words of wisdom or some baritone fill as appropriate.
Romance also rears its head when a local bed and breakfast takes in the formerly hell-raising pop star Aubrey Flynn, played by the Irish singer-songwriter Imelda May, and has come to pretty Port Isaac to decompress. Meanwhile, local colour is affixed to each of these storylines as if by Post-It Note: characters say things like “They’ll have you in a straitjacket before you can say Stargazy Pie,” and crack double entendres about pasties.
Less slapdash than its predecessor, it still feels like the result of a British underdog comedy-making exercise – one whose object, this time, was to come up with 90 minutes of passable material onto which a preordained, culled-from-reality Big Finish can be stuck. This takes the form of the group’s 2011 performance on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage – an event that here serves as an all’s-well-that-ends-well finale to the preceding misadventures, and is intercut with footage of the real event. Or at least footage of something happening at Glastonbury. It’s a bit too pixelly to tell.
Writer-directors Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft clearly recognise what an asset they have in Purefoy, since the actor is more or less left to heave the whole film along single-handed, in the face of much rib-proddingly obvious dialogue and some very broad supporting performances. At least Maggie Steed is good value as Jim’s mother, the harbour town’s redoubtable B&B proprietress and a wily music-business fixer on the side, and there’s a gently funny skit involving cream teas.
Even the music doesn’t provide much of a lift, thanks to a thin, presenceless sound mix which leaves the group’s work sounding for the most part like – well, a bunch of actors warbling along to a backing track. During a rowdily impromptu singalong in a posh London restaurant (of course!), we hear a backing band but certainly don’t see one, and the mismatch imparts a sense of tackiness onto the scene almost subliminally. This second Fisherman’s Friends is not without its moments, but the aftertaste calls for a strong menthol lozenge.
12A cert, 112 min. In cinemas from Friday August 19