One mustn't carp at Salmon Fishing In The Yemen
10:20 GMT, 20 April 2012
SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN (12A)
Verdict: One mustn't carp
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was no blockbuster, but its success has shown there is a market for well-crafted, warm films aimed at people over 35.
Salmon Fishing In The Yemen is another attempt to reach that demographic — and it deserves to do well, even if it isn’t a patch on the Paul Torday novel on which it is based.
The book was at least partly a satire on the Blair government, and the main relic here of that intent is Kristin Scott Thomas’s hilarious turn as the prime minister’s press adviser — a cleaner version of Malcolm Tucker from TV comedy The Thick Of It.
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A beautiful pairing: Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor act beautifully and their tale is charming.
The main fun comes early on as she browbeats civil servants into implementing a policy that is, quite clearly to everyone but her, barking mad.
For it is she who persuades the PM to authorise the fishy proposal by an eccentric Yemeni sheik (Amr Waked) to bring salmon-stocked water to his native land.
She does so because she thinks this will endear the government to fish-fanciers in Britain and paint the UK as sympathetic to Islamic culture. Needless to say, hardly anything goes as planned.
The two people overseeing the operation — the glamorous businesswoman acting as the sheik’s British representative (Emily Blunt) and the shy scientist planner of the scheme (Ewan McGregor) — gradually fall in love, even though he’s married to a bossy, high-flying wife (Rachael Stirling) and she’s involved in an affair with a British soldier missing in action (Tom Mison).
Their unlikely relationship develops alongside the even more implausible Yemeni project, which comes to obsess them both.
Finding the balance: But too much of the dialogue is reduced to platitudes about the importance of faith in life as in fishing.
Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom is more interested in their hesitant intimacy than in the satire, and it’s hard to argue he’s wrong commercially.
Blunt and McGregor act beautifully and their tale is charming.
It helps if you haven’t read the book, which is funnier and harder hitting.
The story has been de-fanged, and too much of the dialogue is reduced to platitudes about the parallels between love and swimming upstream, and the importance of faith in life as in fishing.
The crucial question is posed early on — why should we care about a rich man’s folly — and Simon Beaufoy’s screenplay takes an unnecessarily long time to answer that, which may stretch the patience of many.
Implausibilities abound in the final half-hour, and it’s hard for anyone with the slightest knowledge of recent Yemeni history to believe that a sheik, however eccentric, would be so naive against his adversaries.
The half-hearted ventures into British politics and Muslim extremism jar with Hallstrom’s sentimental direction.
Since he became a director for hire in Hollywood and started turning out films such as Chocolat and The Cider House Rules, he has lost the quirkiness that enlivened his first international hit, My Life As A Dog.
Yet despite its flaws, this film is entertaining and a genuine heart-warmer.
Blunt and Scott Thomas, in particular, are marvellous, and they’re the main reason the film scrapes a fourth star from me.