OK- let’s talk movies. Most film fans worth their salt have a Friday afternoon date with the ‘Kermode and Mayo’ (“Hello to Jason Isaacs”) show on Radio 5 Live, hosted by DJ Simon Mayo and Film Critic and arch ranter Mark Kermode. Now in his review of the brilliant ‘Tinker Tailor, Solider Spy’, Kermode argued that the film was not about spying but actually about men hiding secrets from each other, which got short shrift from Simon Mayo who was having none of that.
Now, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a bit like that. Although the title suggests that the movie is about salmon fishing in the Yemen and admittedly there is a lot of that in the film itself, at its heart though, it is really about Faith. Faith in a project, faith in a relationship, faith in yourself and others.
The film based on Paul Torday’s debut 2007 novel of the same name and adapted by ‘The Full Monty’ & ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, centres around two main characters- Fisheries expert Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor) and consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt). Jones is a man simply going through the motions in his life, working in a dull pedestrian job, trapped in a tepid marriage, neglected by a complacent wife. Chetwode-Talbot is involved with an Army officer about to be deployed in the middle east when, acting on the instructions of a very wealthy Yemeni sheikh (Amr Waked) she convinces Jones to help her client realise his ambition to introduce salmon fishing in the Yemen desert.
This mad scheme gets a huge boost when a weasely spin doctor (think a female Alistair Campbell) played by Kristin Scott-Thomas demands a positive middle east news story – so the salmon fishing project gets big political support and we get transported to the Yemen (OK – actually Morocco) where Jones attempts to explain the difficulty of introducing said salmon into the desert, but he gradually gets won over and starts to warm to the idea and gets closer to Chetwode-Talbot.
The film is a quirky and very funny meditation on faith and a satire on government news management that perhaps suffers from trying to combine the two. Kristin Scott-Thomas, as in most of her films, threatens to run away with the acting honours but for me her character is too loud and obvious as someone keen to distract people and the media away from the war in Afghanistan. But it’s the quiet moments between Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt that draw you in. They are both very likable characters, both flawed to varying degrees and you do want to see more of them. At a key stage of the film, they are both in Yemen and they see a group of Yeminis getting ready to pray and both of them say that they don’t know anyone who now goes to church- that’s the intro to the idea of faith and it carries on in the story.
Does Jones share the faith of the sheikh that unless you truely believe in something it won't happen? Doe he believe that he and Chetwode-Talbot have a future together, does she believe enough in herself and him and what about her Army boyfriend?
The film has already been a big success and you can see why – it is quite a gentle and likeable piece of film making, ably directed by Lasse Hallstrom and it is consistently funny but moving too. McGregor is always worth watching, but for me, it is Emily Blunt who steals the show. There is just something about her that keeps you interested and there is always something going on behind those eyes of her. She impressed in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ alongside Meryl Streep (no mere feat), she was especially sweet in ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’, and played a remarkable young Queen in ‘The Young Victoria’. She continues to impress and is one British actress set to dominate in the coming years. More please.