Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Amr Waked
Distributor: Roadshow Films
Runtime: 107 mins. Reviewed in Apr 2012
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Mature themes and infrequent coarse language

This is a British romantic comedy-drama movie based on a novel (2006) of the same name by Paul Torday.

A leading scientist, Dr. Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor) is approached by Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), who wants his advice on how to bring salmon fishing to the Yemen. She represents a wealthy Sheikh (Amr Waked), who loves Scotland, but who also wants to bring his people water, and fish for salmon in his desert. Dr. Jones works for the British Government, and he suffers from Aspergers. Not surprisingly, he says that salmon will perish in the desert, and he prepares an exaggerated plan that, to his surprise, is accepted. The secretary of the Prime Minister’s Press Office, Bridget Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) decides to support the project. It offers a good-will story that distracts conveniently from Britain’s military failures, and is symbolic to her of “Anglo-Yemeni Co-operation”. The project is insane, but with the British Prime Minister’s approval she puts political pressure on those around her to fly salmon in from England.

The Sheikh gives Jones 50 million pounds to finance the project. Jones wants to say “no” , because of the project’s absurdity, but his inclination is compromised by the fact that the British Government has built up what is happening to create a flagship project for British Science. With his job at risk, and his marriage disintegrating, Jones decides reluctantly to try to make the project work.

In Yemen, Fred falls in love with Harriet, and their growing attraction to each other is portrayed movingly. The film could have been burdened with clichés, but it avoids them in the scenario that it creates. Torday’s novel had strong elements of political satire, and offered solid food for thought on Britain’s foreign policies. The film doesn’t do this. It throws its main focus on romance and the role of faith in inspiring the achievement of what seems humanly impossible, and draws back from offering detailed comment about Anglo-Middle East conflict situations. There is the predictable plot to sabotage the project, but when some of the salmon survive, despite efforts to stop them, Fred commits fully to the Sheikh’s vision to achieve the impossible, and Harriet makes the decision to stay behind to partner him in the vision.

MacGregor brings a rich Scottish accent to his part, and plays the role of Dr. Jones with social awkwardness, characteristic of Aspergers, and beguiling resolve. He is aware that the British government is concocting a feel-good story that distracts people. But underneath the apparent impossibility of it all, the fact that the salmon get through brings a visionary conclusion to the story that works, as it did in the novel.

Not surprisingly, the film passes more than a critical glance at environmental projects forced on the naïve, and Kristin Scott Thomas, in a wonderfully over-the-top comic performance, highlights the politics and fool-hardiness of major decisions made deep inside Government bureaucracies. Her bullish and awful behaviour says volumes about the character of life in the British Public Service, as Torday painted it.

The film is a gentle, sweet movie that achieves its comedy and drama in an understated way, and it creates some delightful, comic moments, both verbal and non-verbal. With the help of good scripting, and firm direction, the convincing acting of McGregor and Blunt helps further to give credibility to a very unlikely situation.

This is a very entertaining film that brings a popular novel intelligently to the screen.

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