Paul Torday’s novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen draws comparisons between the seemingly impossible pursuit of its title and the lives of those it depicts. While the movie adaptation follows the same central story it has much smaller ambitions.
Salmon Fishing tells the story of Dr. Alfred Jones, a fisheries expert who is drafted by Sheikh Muhammed of the Yemen to set up a salmon fishing run in the arab state. Jones is recruited by Harriet, a London-based financier hired by the Sheikh to make the project happen.
Ewan McGregor plays the doctor to Emily Blunt’s Harriet and the Sheikh’s plan bring not only their worlds but also their lives together.
This is a very simple film. McGregor plays the doctor as a cynical, socially awkward curmudgeon who finds the whole idea laughable. In fact the sequences where McGregor is most dismissive of the project are some of the best. Blunt plays determined and playful as well as she has before and there are few actresses who can pull off dismissively likeable as she can. I have yet to see Blunt play a role where I do not fall for her a little bit (even in The Devil Wears Prada) and this is no exception, she is a thoroughly captivating screen presence.
Just as the story comes close to the danger of becoming boring director, Lasse Hallstrom, rolls out Kristen Scott Thomas. Playing a sub-Thick of It Prime Ministerial Press Secretary she is on scene stealing form throughout. Her cutting put downs and handling of not just the Prime Minister but Jones and her own children is done with style, attack and a knowing glance. Scott Thomas is clearly having a huge amount of fun playing this part.
Back to the story at hand the fish out of water metaphor is wrung for all it is worth and Dr. Jones and the Sheikh bond over their love of fishing. Harriet’s persistence gets the project moving and soon we are in the desert watching salmon being transported ready for fishing. Amr Waked, as the Sheikh, plays his role with an intelligence and subtlety which complements the other performances.
As Blunt and McGregor spend more and more time in the desert their prospective home lives become more and more distant. An already fraught marriage for McGregor, to an ageing Rachel Stirling (it’s seems only yesterday she was a Victorian lesbian) and Blunt’s embryonic relationship with a soldier who is now MIA, are pushed to breaking point and the emotional weight of the film increases.
The final third of the film sees the fishing experiment take flight and the obvious revelations of the love story, it remains however the strong performances from the central performances of McGregor, Blunt, Waked and Scott Thomas that hold the interest and make what could have been a dull concept an engaging story.
The scenery is breathtaking at times and cinematographer Terry Stacey squeezes every inch of ambience out of the desert, the soulless London offices and the English country retreat of Sheikh Muhammed.
There is nothing groundbreaking, life-changing or challenging here, just a nice story well told. The relationships may have been better explored on the stage, but as a gentle Sunday evening drama this would have been a huge success on television. It seems the central conceit demands a film adaptation and that takes the edge off what could have been the catch of the day (I’m really sorry!)
- Ewan McGregor Talks Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, “Lovely” Emily Blunt, and “Unsexy” Accents (popsugar.com)
- Salmon Fishing in the Yemen review: Ewan McGregor playing against type is a delight (mirror.co.uk)
- Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor Pose in Pretty Places (seattleweekly.com)
- Reel World – Salmon Fishing In The Yemen (fox2now.com)
- Reading Corner: ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ (theculturecut.wordpress.com)