JDIFF 2012 Review – Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Alfred (Ewan McGregor) is approached by Harriet (Emily Blunt) to help fulfil the wishes of an Arab Sheikh and bring the sport of fly-fishing to the Yemeni desert. UK government press secretary Patricia (Kristin Scott Thomas) backs the plan and maintains, “We need a good story about the Middle East that doesn’t have explosions”.

Ewan McGregor has been everywhere lately and fans of the actor are rejoicing that he has returned to the big screen. Alfred is a simple man whose main love in life is fish and fishing. He feels stuck in his suburban life and, as the film goes on, he realises that his marriage is crumbling around him. McGregor is a great choice for the role of Alfred, he is sweet and charming and that smile just lights up the screen. Emily Blunt plays Harriet, and throughout most of the film, she and Alfred refer to one another as ‘Mr’ and ‘Miss’; how adorable and quintessentially English. Blunt is not too taxed in her role, but the connection between Harriet and Alfred is genuine and believable. The couple draw closer through a tragedy, and before long they realise that they could be more than just friends. Kristin Scott Thomas is on fine form as the fast talking, fast thinking press secretary, and it is her hand that pushes the project along.

Most of the characters are drawn fairly broad; there is very little depth to any of these people that we see on screen, but that is OK. The surface of these characters sparkle and their bonds with one another are easy, even if they keep each other at a respectful distance. The characters may feel familiar, mainly because they are drawn so broadly; there is little about the characters that we have not seen before, even if McGregor and Blunt connect well and appear to enjoy their characters.

The film is based on a novel of the same name by Paul Torday, whose dual interests in fly-fishing and the Middle East led to him creating this story. The novel is a political satire about the world political spin management, but the romance has been brought to the fore for the movie version. There isn’t anything wrong with this – the film works fine for what it is – but it would have been interesting to see a little more of the politics and a little less of McGregor and Blunt gazing at one another. There are hints at this as the Sheikh and his project are attacked, but once the immediate danger has passed, these attacks are simply forgotten about and the characters move on.

It is clear that someone involved with the film has been keeping a close eye on the BBC’s Sherlock, as the emails that the characters initially send to one another are spelled out on screen in a style that will be very familiar to fans of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s TV show. Again, there is not anything wrong with this, but it feels as though the film is eager to borrow tricks – and even characters – from other works, rather than create it’s own unique style.

Director Lasse Hallström carries on the light and superficial style that he created with films such as Chocolat and Dear John; the characters are widely drawn so that the audience can relate to them as much as possible. This is fine – and there is plenty in the film that smacks of real life – but it does get to a point where there seems to be no unattractive qualities about any of the characters and anything negative that happens to them is due to someone else’s grievance.

In all, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a sweet, if superficial, tale about making the impossible possible. Scott Thomas and McGregor have some brilliantly funny lines and there is definitely chemistry between the two leads. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is charming, but never dips below the surface to find the darker undercurrents, which leaves the film feeling like there is something missing.

Rating: 3/5

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