Salmon Fishing In The Yemen

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 June, 2012, 12:00am


Starring: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Amr Waked, Kristin Scott Thomas
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Category: IIA (English, Arabic and Putonghua)

For a film seeking to celebrate the existence of a universal goodness beyond race, religion or creed, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is strangely limited in its cultural vision.

What was originally a satirical novel poking fun at the British bureaucracy now emerges as a romantic comedy with archetypal characters and relationships ahoy. Director Lasse Hallstrom - that canny manipulator of middle-brow, middle-class emotions - reworks the opposites-attract chestnut by playing on the well-established signposts of Britishness (an eccentric fogey with a regional accent and an unsympathetic wife, a British rose with a double-barrelled name and a boyfriend away on military duty) and then reconciling those differences with the help of an Arab mystic.

Hallstrom doesn't do subtlety. During the opening credits salmon leap upstream in slow motion. It's a metaphor which will be repeated later when wildlife expert Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) wades through a stream of oncoming commuters - with whom he usually marches along - to visit Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt, above with McGregor), the investment consultant who has asked him to help a sheikh (Amr Waked) bring salmon fishing to Yemen.

He starts off as a jaded civil servant who's most at home in his dark, mouldy study in a suburban house, she's a radiant spirit working in a glass-and-steel tower in central London. Both become slowly closer as they embark on their project. Whenever their will wavers, in comes a nugget of truth from the sheikh: it's not about science, he says, it's about faith. Or something like that.

Hackneyed it might be, but Hallstrom could still have fashioned his adaptation as a competent rom-com even as he drains the original of its spiky observations of the absurdity of mandarins and their machinations of proper process and power. What could have been uneventful sailing, however, is sucked into choppier waters as Simon Beaufoy's screenplay takes aim at modern-day political spin.

While Paul Torday's book touches on how the Yemen plan becomes a high-priority government project because it distracts from the turbulence of Middle Eastern politics, Hallstrom seems out of his depth in bringing Beaufoy's political jibes to the screen.

Kristin Scott Thomas's spin-doctor, Patricia Maxwell, is one big caricature, as is her way of pursuing a good story to keep her masters in power. Her every appearance encroaches on what is mostly a romantic narrative. It's a jarring cross-breeding that spawns only confusion, and highlights, perhaps, how colourless and expectable Salmon Fishing is.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen opens today