Salmon Fishing In The Yemen
It’s hard to find a good romantic film nowadays. That’s why when a good one comes along it becomes an instant classic, like "The Notebook." More often than not the relationships on screen are half cooked and never fully sizzle, usually through no fault of the actors. Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor do their best, but "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" is too busy being a visually pleasing film than a satisfying feast for all the senses.
Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor) has a mundane life as a fisheries expert in the British bureaucracy. Things change when he is contacted to help a sheik develop salmon fishing in Yemen. The reason? A no-nonsense press secretary to the British Prime Minister sees publicizing this venture as a way to draw attention from the bad press being given the war in the Middle East. Fred believes such a project is impossible but is forced into the project, which he works on with the sheik’s eager consultant Harriet (the commanding Emily Blunt). As the project develops, so do his feelings for his co-worker.
Based on the book of the same name by Paul Torday, "Yemen" comes across almost like a parable about making the seemingly impossible into reality. Too bad the screenplay, by Simon Beaufoy (who also adapted "Slumdog Millionaire"), plays out like a standard screen romance with so much syrupy wonderment crammed in it might be wise to bring a stack of pancakes in case the screen starts to leak.
The lead actors have an easy rapport, making it easy to see where there might be some kind of deeper development between their characters. But the film is one-sided when it comes to developing their individual romantic entanglements. Harriet’s mourning for a soldier, presumed dead in the Middle East, becomes a major part of the plot, despite the fact that the couple had just a few dates before his deployment. Fred’s failing marriage doesn’t warrant nearly the same attention, save for when he decides to leave his bossy wife for a possibility of being with Harriet. When her boyfriend is found alive, Harriet ends up with a dilemma of whom to choose - the hot soldier or the nerdy bureaucrat. This adds some dramatic tension to the film, but delving deeper into Fred’s marriage would have been more rewarding.
As the press secretary in perpetual spin mode, Kristin Scott Thomas has a ball. Perfectly over-the-top, She breathes life into the film that flounders (excuse the metaphor) like a fish out of water. The role is tailor made for Thomas, (it is changed from being a male in the book), and she is more than willing to run with it. It’s unfortunate that she isn’t given more screen time.
Director Lasse Hallstrom ("The Cider House Rules," "My Life as a Dog") uses natural light to give a more intimate feel to some of the scenes. Shooting with sprawling exteriors serving as the backdrop helps give the film some warmth missing from many domestic releases. Hallstrom’s strength here is creating the visuals on the screen in a rich, textured way.
But the actors and scenery can only do so much. With slack pacing and a plot that is saddled down with hackneyed developments (Harriet’s boyfriend survived! Indigenous people are opposed to the sheik’s plan!), Hallstrom doesn’t seem to be as worried about moving the plot forward as framing striking visuals. Lingering on scenes longer than necessary would appear to be an attempt to find an emotional hook, yet much of the film falls flat. For a film jam-packed with spirituality discussions, talk of fate, and even love at first sight, "Yemen" rings hollow, lacking much punch.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Dr. Alfred Jones :: Ewan McGregor
Harriet :: Emily Blunt
The Sheikh :: Amr Waked
Patricia Maxwell :: Kristin Scott Thomas
Robert :: Tom Mison
Mary Jones :: Rachael Stirling
Ashley :: Catherine Steadman
Betty Burnside :: Jill Baker
Essad :: Waleed Akhtar
Director, Lasse öm; Screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy; Producer, Paul Webster; Executive Producer, Jamie Laurenson; Executive Producer, Stephen Garrett; Executive Producer, Paula Jalfon; Executive Producer, Zygi Kamasa; Executive Producer, Guy Avshalom; Cinematographer, Terry Stacey; Film Editor, Lisa Gunning; Original Music, Dario Marianelli; Production Design, Michael Carlin; Art Director, Steve Carter; Set Decoration, Rebecca Alleway; Costume Designer, Julian Day; Casting, Fiona Weir.