Directed by: Lasse Hallström.
Written by: Simon Beaufoy based on the novel by Paul Torday.
Starring: Ewan McGregor (Dr. Alfred Jones), Emily Blunt (Harriet), Kristin Scott Thomas (Patricia Maxwell), Amr Waked (Sheikh Muhammed), Tom Mison (Capt. Robert Mayers), Rachael Stirling (Mary Jones), Conleth Hill (Bernard Sugden).
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen could have been made into a great political satire, or at the very least, a very funny, goofy comedy. After all, the idea behind the movie – a wealthy Sheikh in Yemen spends millions of dollars hiring a British fisheries expert, along with other “experts”, in an attempt to introduce salmon fishing into the Middle East. His plan is to replicate the conditions in which salmon thrives in Europe and North America. The idea is patently ridiculous, even though the movie spends a great deal of time convincing us that it is possible. While Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a pleasant movie – an enjoyable, if wholly forgettable way to spend a couple of hours, I really do wish the film had pushed itself to be an edgier, more pointed satire. There is great material here, and this was the least daring way to film it.
The film stars Ewan McGregor as Dr. Alfred Jones, the button down, boring fisheries expert referenced earlier. He is in a loveless marriage with a financial expert (Rachael Stirling), with whom he’s been with since they were young, and they are only staying together because it’s easier than separating. When he’s contacted by Harriet (Emily Blunt), who works at a British firm representing the wealthy Sheikh Muhammad (Amr Waked) to try to bring salmon fishing to the Yemen, he thinks the idea is stupid, and not even worthy of his time. But the Prime Minister’s spokesperson, Patricia Maxwell (Kristen Scott Thomas), hears about the proposal, and desperate for a feel good story out of the Middle East, orders Jones to take part. So Jones, reluctantly, goes along with it – and is gradually won over – first by the charming Harriet, who has her own relationship problems (her boyfriend has been listed as M.I.A. in Afghanistan), and then by the Sheikh himself, who is so pure, so optimistic, so calm, that he cannot help but want to try to please him. And as the movie goes along, and the money keeps flowing, it looks like they may just achieve what has become their mutual goal.
There are many ways in which this material could be filmed. Personally, I would have liked to see a less one dimensional portrait of the Sheikh. I know that, like Maxwell, the film wants to be a feel good story about the Middle East, but still, his idea is so outlandish that I would have liked to see a little craziness in the Sheikh – a little bit of an ego. After all, the villagers around the purposed “fishing site” are poor – surely the Sheikh could think of a better way to spend millions upon millions of dollars to help them out rather than bringing salmon fishing there. But the movie insists on portraying him as a saint, and as a result, he becomes a rather uninteresting character.
I will say that I liked Kristen Scott Thomas’ performance, as broad as it may be, because she seems to be the only character who realizes how outlandish the idea is – and doesn’t care. Like all politicians, she is looking for a good story – a way to get votes, instead of a way to actually fix anything. This is an easy attack on politicians, but at least Scott Thomas goes for broke in the role, and is responsible for most of the films big laughs.
So, in the absence of any real insight on politics or any real biting satire of either the British system, or the Middle East, the movie takes the path of least resistance in the slow budding romance between McGregor and Blunt. The two leads are appealing, and well matched. They have an easy, unforced chemistry about them, and even though they both end up betraying the mates they did have at the start of the film, it’s hard to be mad at them. They are just so well suited to each other. McGregor and Blunt could probably star together in a much better romantic comedy than this one, but at least they’re pleasant together here.
I know that much of this review has talked about what is NOT in the movie rather than what is. I usually don’t like doing that, but in this case, I couldn’t help it. Watching the movie go through the motions, and ending up a fairly dull, predictable romantic comedy instead of what it could have been, I was disappointed, and my mind wandered to what this film could have been, if only it had not taken the path of least resistance.