What do you do with eleven drunken sailors ear-lai in the morning… when they wake up in the modern world?
Directed by Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft, Fisherman’s Friends: One and All is a joyful musical experience that anyone can enjoy. Based on the amazing true story of this band of shantyman that achieves unexpected success, there is also a surprising level of heart buried within the humour and music. Although the film focuses its narrative on the lives of slightly different characters within the group, the film maintains the soul of the original. As a result, Leonard and Moorcroft have managed to follow up a successful first effort with a second entry that keeps you engaged and invites you to join in the fun.
As the sequel to the original Fisherman’s Friends, One and All picks up where its predecessor leaves off. After the success of their first album, the band is struggling with their new-found fame. Their music is steeped in tradition… but their label is nervous that they don’t sound ‘fresh’ enough to keep the ride going. As a result, Jim (James Purefoy) is struggling to keep focused, especially after the passing of his father. Now, the boys must re-learn what it means to be men in a new world if they want to maintain the success that they’ve achieved.
While performances are solid and the humour works relatively well, the real stars of the film are its scenery and music. First and foremost, the film’s soundtrack is an absolute joy. Fueled by classic sea shanty, the film has the sonic charm of other a cappella films yet somehow feels grander. Rather than focusing on modern pop hits like the Pitch Perfect franchise, One and All leans into its more traditional sound, allowing the film to seem… mature. While this makes sense given the general age of the band members, it’s the music that elevates the film to something more than other musical films. What’s more, steeped in the traditions of the English countryside, One and All visually has an almost mythological warmth and welcome about it.
And tradition is key to this film.
Simply put, One and All is a story “good old boys living in a new world“. Based on the true story of the band Fisherman’s Friend and their unlikely success, these are men who are locked in the past and lost amidst the ‘new rules’ of the modern era. For Jim and the boys, fame is great but not as important as having a pint at the pub and, maybe, hooking up with a lass. These are men who care a little for the ways outside their community, content to live in the world they know. Even so, One and All recognizes that these sorts of male attitudes have become problematic (or even potentially toxic) in today’s culture of gender equity.
But, as they step into success, they become increasingly aware that the world around them is different than their own. (After all, as their producer says, we can “accept that they sound like they’re from 1792 as long as they don’t act like they’re from 1792.”) These sorts of changes are scary, especially for the older generation. In this way, One for All explores one the challenges of older people as they attempt to become wiser within the modern era with humor, but also heart and sensitivity.
However, perhaps the best part of the film is its willingness to challenge men to acknowledge their flaws and fears. Although One for All begins by forcing its characters to ask themselves about the appropriateness of their modern-day attitudes, it quickly moves into the realm of mental health, struggles and addiction as well. For example, struggling with the loss of his father, Jim attempts to bury his pain at the bottom of the bottle. Clinging to his hurt and holding it inside, Jim’s struggles begin to affect the band as well and he is forced to ask some very difficult questions about himself. Although these conversations feel commonplace in our everyday world, they remain difficult for those who come from a culture where “men must be men.” In these spaces, vulnerability can be seen as weakness, making it all the more difficult to properly heal but One and All calls men of this generation to speak of their brokenness so that they can move forward.
As such, Fisherman’s Friends: One and All may begin with the music and mayhem but opens the door for deeper conversations about modern masculinity. While not necessarily the finest fish in the sea, this is definitely not one to cast away.
Fisherman’s Friends: One and All is available in theatres on Friday, November 18th, 2022.