When the Life of Brian first came out it was accompanied by a cartoon short from Terry Gilliam’s stable and a mickey take of the Travelogue genre that, but for John Cleese voicing the commentary, felt like the sort of ubiquitous filler that you used to get before every main picture. It was only when yet another sumptuous colour-saturated soft-focus shot of Venice filled the screen with the voice saying ‘Not more fucking gondolas’ that you realised for sure this wasn’t your classic bit of Renaissance filmography
Which is why any film that makes a big deal about its setting and the glorious scenery that will unravel before my eyes, is already on the back foot, lodged behind Cleese’s expert evisceration of this sub-genre. It has to work doubly hard to win my plaudits.
Take a wonderful 1980s masterpiece – Local Hero. The glorious evocation of the Scottish Highlands and its western coast did more than any number of brochures and travelogues could have to attract me to visit. The reason was twofold: first the story was a good one with some cracking young actors making early appearances (and Burt Lancaster as an oil tycoon making one of his last); second the score by Mark Knoppfler was epic. The Local Hero theme song is still a favourite.
That meant the scenery, glorious as it was, was like a subliminal virus on my senses. It was almost as if I didn’t notice it.
Fisherman’s Friend, yet another ‘based on true story’ film – goodness there do seem to be a lot about just now – is set in the Cornish fishing village Port Isaac and tells the story of how a group of friends and locals were accidentally talent spotted and signed to a major record label in 2011. It’s feelgoody, romantic, with a believable love story (boy meets girl, boy makes himself look a prannock, girl takes persuading, girl is persuaded, boy lets himself down, boy redeems himself, boy re-gets girl – repeat) with jeopardies and set backs and ultimate triumphs. It has the real music from the band at its centre and it is coherent and occasionally funny. The baddies aren’t really and the goodies are flawed but in humane, harmless ways. No one is prejudiced in ways that would have the average cinema audience sucking in through its teeth.
It’s an easy two hours and behind it all is Cornwall and the stunning rugged coast line, the picturesque village and the isolation that created the catalyst for the group to exist in the first place.
Now, I’ll be honest. There’s not a lot here. It’s not thought provoking. It’s not really an against all the odds film of substance. For that go and see The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind if you can…
But if you are looking for a couple of hours of easy going, soft on the brain film entertainment you might do worse than this film. There should be more like it really. It has to be better than some piece of flim-flammy superhero rubber-clad celluloid porridge that costs a studio the price of a return flight to Mars…