The town of Grimsby in North East Lincolnshire is synonymous with fish, a tumultuous political landscape, and the butt of jokes about poverty and the working classes.
Many will remember the Sacha Baron Cohen film about the town, The Brother’s Grimsby, which relentlessly mocked the town and its people – it left a sour taste in the mouths of Grimbarians, especially as it was filmed in Essex on a set made to look rubbish-strewn and poverty-stricken.
Meanwhile, there are numerous documentaries and shows that depict Grimsby as an end-of-the-road (the A180 and A46 to be precise) town with no prospects, full of poverty, and as having a fishing industry clinging to life support (only last week an Icelandic fish processing centre in the town was threatened with closure, with operators citing Brexit and the pandemic as reasons).
But this view of the town has been flipped on its head by filmmakers Jack Spring and Paul Stephenson, who used Grimsby as a backdrop for new comedy-drama film Three Day Millionaire.
Before we go any further, I must admit to having a conflict of interest here – I grew up in the town. I spent the best part of 20 years in Grimsby and will always have a deep love for the region. I was excited to see a depiction of Grimsby closer to the one I knew.
The film, which features British stars such as former Corrie actors James Burrows and Sam Glen, Gangs Of London legend Colm Meaney, as well as TikToker Grace Long, follows trawler men on shore leave for three days, who have a fat wedge of cash in their pocket, and the town of Grimsby, and everyone in it, at their disposal.
But while the lads go out and drink and snort their hard-earned wages, a plot to dismantle the town’s once powerful fishing industry and replace it with coffee shops and fancy restaurants is under way – led by politicians and yuppie London developers.
What follows is the townsmen doing anything they can to protect Grimsby’s heritage – and their jobs.
“It’s a lazy trope, isn’t it?”, director Jack Spring told Sky News of films that mocks the town.
“There have been previous pieces of media that used the Grimsby name in a very lazy, slapstick, kind of assumptive way.
“We wanted to tell the story of the town’s real identity, rather than just the lazy tropes of ‘it’s not a nice area’ or ‘it’s got nothing’.”
‘It’s about identity’
What the town’s “real” identity is, is different, depending on who you ask – a fishing giant, an industrial firepower, a market town, a political hotbed or a leader in the green revolution.
“The whole film, when you strip it back, is about identity in the towns like Grimsby, almost echoed in every northern industrial town that, at some point, had the same thing happen to it,” Spring explained.
“And holding onto that identity, and that’s perhaps stopping it forming its new one.
“Grimsby is now one of the UK leaders in the renewable energy space and the offshore wind farms and… big companies coming to town and creating new jobs – but it’s taken an awful long time.
“It’s only really in the last kind of five years maybe that you can really say that Grimsby has found its new identity and is kind of on the up.”
But it’s not just the town’s identity explored in the film – there are wider themes of opportunity and levelling up.
Writer Paul Stephenson, who hails from Hull, just over the River Humber from Grimsby, told Sky News that when he was growing up he was told: “If you were a bloke, you would be a plumber; if you were a girl, you’re going to be a hairdresser.
“And if you were talking about art or creativity or self-expression, you’re probably somewhere in between.”
It’s something he reflects in his writing, with two of the characters talking about their lack of prospects in the town, but still feeling guilty about leaving – which from experience is still a real mindset for many in their home towns.
Who is levelling up for – locals or billionaires?
Gentrification isn’t always a welcome idea in these working class industrial towns, as shown by the film, with generational livelihoods being turfed out, in favour of easy access shopping, new coffee shops, and flats overlooking the river.
Stephenson explains his rationale: “Cookie cutter retail parks that just pop up in every town – is that what we’re really asking for, or is somebody else asking for it? The billionaires who can get the thing through planning and get the buildings put there?
“And, some people will welcome that, but if retail is the way forward to give our towns identity, there will be people like the guys in our film who will say no to that.”
A sense echoed by actor in the film Sam Glen, who comes from Oldham – who suggests when it comes to levelling up, sometimes a step back is needed.
“My local theatre in Oldham just lost its (Arts Council) funding, and it’s supposed to be a levelling-up town,” he told Sky News.
“In terms of access to arts, in those cultural cold spots, in terms of funding literally being from all angles for those places… these organisations just come in and, yeah, just read the room.
“I think if it’s not fancy new apartments, every sector is getting slashed in different ways in these towns.”
‘It was a joy and privilege’ to film in the town
So how did Grimsby react to the best and brightest of British filmmaking swooping into the town to make a film?
“People were resistant,” Glen said.
“There was a feeling of like fear because… every time a film crew appears in this town, they kind of know where it’s leading to in terms of the story that it’s trying to tell.”
Director Spring added: “But everyone was great. The whole town really opened the door to outsiders.
“It was during COVID, so we were knocking on people’s doors saying, ‘Hi, can we come and look at your bathroom? We’re making a film’, and what a weird request, but people would let us in.
“It was a genuine joy and privilege to spend a couple of months there doing this.”
In fact, the town was so enamoured by the attention, hundreds signed up to be extras, and when the premiere was held in neighbouring Cleethorpes, at the country’s largest independent cinema, (Grimsby’s Odeon has been left empty for almost 20 years) thousands of tickets were shifted.
Three Day Millionaire is out now in selected cinemas, or available to buy digitally.