Movie review: ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ floats on feathery fancy
Talk about a movie swimming against the current, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is part political satire, part romantic comedy and part whimsical fable tagged with an eccentric title that won’t likely entice the popcorn crowd to take its lure.
It’s a tough sell, for sure, but with director Lasse Hallstrom (“The Cider House Rules,” “Chocolat”) lending his soft-focused, humanist touch and with a hugely appealing cast of Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt providing chaste romantic fuel and Kristin Scott Thomas contributing sharp comic strokes, the movie might prove a surprise crowd-pleaser if enough moviegoers rise to its quirkiness.
Although the screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Full Monty”) is a canny condensation of an ambitious story, it largely neuters its source material, the tart satirical novel by Paul Torday that mercilessly skewers British bureaucracy, Middle Eastern foreign policy and man’s prideful determination to engineer nature.
The epistolary novel – told in a series of memos, emails, bureaucratic transcripts and diary entries – focuses on a colorful quartet of players: the fabulously wealthy Sheikh Muhammed, who entertains a fanciful dream of introducing salmon fishing into the Wadi Allyn, a seasonal river of his arid Yemini homeland; prim, efficient Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, the sheikh’s pretty business agent in Britain; the uptight Dr. Alfred Jones, England’s leading fisheries expert who is pressed into consulting on what he sees as the sheikh’s half-baked folly, and the profane Patricia Maxwell, the British prime minister’s bullying press officer.
As the unlikely project to bring cold-water Atlantic salmon to a manufactured habitat in the Arabian desert unfolds, the main focus is on the initially prickly, then warmly affectionate relationship that grows between Ms. Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt) and Dr. Jones (McGregor). Both harbor messy complications in their lives – she is involved with a hunky military officer (Tom Mison) who’s been declared MIA in Afghanistan, and he’s locked in a loveless marriage to a brisk banking exec (Rachael Stirling) who is more passionate about her job than about her husband.
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