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Film review: Bank of Dave

03 February 2023

Stephen Brown views a heart-warming film

Rory Kinnear as Dave Fishwick in Bank of Dave

Rory Kinnear as Dave Fishwick in Bank of Dave

BANK OF DAVE (Cert. 12) is the kind of feel-good movie beloved by fans of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life (1946). The opening titles state that it is based on the “true(ish) story” of Dave Fishwick. He’s a Burnley boy made good. Like Bailey’s Building and Loan Company in the earlier film, Fishwick’s helps other people’s businesses when strapped for cash. This is unequivocally seen as resulting from the financial Establishment’s predatory behaviour: practices that have gone unpunished.

In the film, Fishwick, as in life, battles to get licensed as a bank, the first new one in 150 years. The narrative takes some liberties with an ongoing issue, but it is this very heightening of reality which has us rooting for underdogs. Why let some bare facts of the matter spoil a rattling good tale? The director, Chris Foggin, and the writer, Piers Ashworth, have taken to heart what the newspaper editor says in The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Such legends often include a pantomime villain: for example, Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life, or Sir Charles Denbigh (Hugh Bonneville) here. The latter embodies the unacceptable face of capitalism, representing a greedy monetary system that can pauperise the kind of ordinary hard-working people whom we see portrayed here. Theirs is a dirty business, prepared to use unscrupulous tactics to ward off any newcomer who dares to upset their cosy cartels. Undermining the Burnley Savings and Loans Limited (BSAL) application is an important element in the drama.

There is also love interest, by virtue of Fishwick’s resorting to fancy London lawyers. Hugh (Joel Fry) is dispatched to the north only to discover, to his great surprise, that it isn’t that grim at all. The people are warm-hearted, salt-of-the-earth personalities. One in particular is a head-turner as far as Hugh’s concerned: Dave’s niece Alexandra (Phoebe Dynevor, late of Bridgerton). She is a doctor campaigning for resources that will improve the community’s health care if only a bank with her uncle’s vision would underwrite the venture.

There’s a danger at this point that the film loses sight of Fishwick himself — Rory Kinnear looking remarkably like the real-life character — while this couple take centre stage. And, though there are many lovable individuals competing for our sympathy, we never really learn that much about how Fishwick’s money is dispensed. Channel 4’s 2013 documentary series gives a clearer idea of what the BSAL does for its people. By donating its profit to charities, including churches, it facilitates foodbanks, community centres, and educational and social activites.

As in its Capra mentor, the film presents us with a Dave-and-Goliath tale: someone pitting his strength against the forces of oppression. Whether the film quite sticks to what is really the case in Burnley or other similar situations is hardly to the point. Bank of Dave is a proclamation of faith giving substance to a joyful, yet unseen hope. Optimism is not the opposite of realism, but about finding practical ways of bringing about a world that reflects its divine purposes. As such, the film is legendary with a narrative demonstrating eternal values.

Released on Netflix

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