Netflix has produced a biopic (Bank of Dave) based on the life of Dave Fishwick and his single-handed fight with the banking and finance establishment to create a locally based bank (Burnley Savings and Loans) in Burnley, which is a place that has required levelling up for years. Burnley is not far from the Happy Valley scene of another popular drama, which might give some understanding of the challenges faced by the inhabitants of that area.
I first heard of Dave Fishwick and his bank when watching a Channel 4 documentary that ran for several weeks in 2012. The Netflix film, issued in January 2023, is the culmination of what, by any measure, is a compelling story.
The Carnegie of Burnley
Fishwick is a multi-millionaire whose fortune was made in a specialised part of the motor trade, specifically the sale of vans and mini-buses. Rather than spend his fortune on space rockets and luxury yachts, he has been the Carnegie of Burnley in his charitable donations and his activities aimed at increasing prosperity in Burnley by supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs.
He started by lending money in an informal way to SMEs, but found that he needed more capital. He saw the need to create a local bank or financial institution for Burnley. In some ways, this is a throwback to the origins of banking, when everything was localised and set up to finance local enterprises using the wealth held by depositors in the area.
The creation of joint stock banks, where liability was restricted to the value of the shares held in the bank, turbo charged the amount of finance available but reduced the local knowledge in assessing risk and return. SMEs in Burnley using conventional financial sources will find that decision making is remote and may be regulated via a not always accurate algorithm. The Bank of Dave is meant to change all that.
Bank of Dave film story
The film stars Rory Kinnear, who may be familiar to you as the aide to M in the James Bond films. Kinnear is believable as Dave Fishwick, and in some ways resembles the real-life Dave. The other characters are the usual love interest, played by Phoebe Dynevor (Bridgerton), the arch villain, played by Hugh Bonneville, and the run of the mill lawyer, who becomes Perry Mason and Rumpole all rolled into one, played by Joel Fry.
While the story is based on Fishwick’s life and his ‘bank’, it has a number of areas where artistic licence has been taken with the story. I will not go through them all, because that would spoil enjoyment of the film, but for instance, the Bank of Dave is still not a bank in its truest sense; it is more of a peer-to-peer lender. However, for the purposes of both the film and the businesses that are being helped, that does not matter. What matters is that the Bank of Dave is up and running and is an example to us all.
The story starts with Dave realising that what is needed is a local independent bank, something that has not been set up in 150 years. He calls in advice from a decent but not very high-performing lawyer (Joel Fry), who first tries to persuade him that it is a bad idea, but then comes to believe in Dave and his sincere attempt to do something for his community, while, of course, falling for Alexandra (Phoebe Dynevor), a hospital doctor in Burnley. After many trials and tribulations, including dirty tricks played by the financial establishment led by Sir Charles Denbigh (Hugh Bonneville), Dave’s bank is formed.
Heart-warming and thought-provoking
The usual description of the film is heart-warming, which is often a film reviewer’s code for worthy and routine. In this case, the departures from the truth did not harm the enjoyment or the thought-provoking nature of the film. The basic question is why the local economy in many British towns is so depressed. For all the moonshot, levelling-up policies of the past few years, nothing really works. Instead, we often see hopelessness and anger expressed, rather than hope and ambition for better days. Bank of Dave shows that something can be done in every town and city to put things on a better footing.
It is a British comedy in the Ealing tradition, of man or people against the system; a worthy successor to Passport to Pimlico, Whisky Galore and The Titfield Thunderbolt. I recommend it as an antidote to the constant flow of bad news presented in the media.
Bank of Dave ought to be required viewing at the Bank of England, the Department of Levelling Up and Communities, and the Department of Business and Trade.