Salmon Fishing in the Yemen can be summed up in one simple word, ‘quaint’. It has an old fashioned and oddly picturesque quality that is quite charming in places, and is overall an pleasant experience; despite unfortunately being altogether forgettable, taking few risks, and lacking any substance in the plot.
Based on Paul Torday’s successful novel of the same name, the story follows the rather eccentric notion put forth by a Sheik (Amr Waked, Contagion) in the Middle East, to introduce Salmon Fishing to Yemen. With the help of investment consultant Harriet (Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada), the highly reluctant fisheries expert Dr Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting), and the backing of the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary Patricia Maxwell (Kristen Scott Thomas, The English Patient) for the sake of good PR, his dream becomes a reality; but not without a number of setbacks and a hell of a lot of faith.
Ewan McGregor’s central protagonist Dr Alfred is the embodiment of many unrealistic stereotypes of the British man; he’s grumpy, stubborn, old fashioned, highly rational, a bit of a prude, walking around in tweed outfits and scoffing at this salmon fishing scheme he deems preposterous; of course, this makes him all the more amusing to our classy leading lady Harriet, who is a woman of much more passion and optimism.
Their characters actually do complement each other very well, and while at first McGregor’s pomp seems a little over the top, as Alfred relaxes into himself so does McGregor’s performance. You really do begin to root for him to ‘get the girl’, especially during their more emotional scenes in which he does a spectacular job of playing the nervous, sweet but reserved man.
Emily Blunt is perfect for the role of Harriet, already having a natural air of softness and class; but impressively she managed to combine those qualities with great delivery of the more comedic lines (anyone who can say the words ‘shove it up your unfeeling arse’ and still sound classy has an incredible gift).
Most of the comedy material is given to Kristen Scott Thomas, who has a few laugh-out-loud lines as the morally ambiguous character of Patricia. However, like a lot of portrayals of ‘strong’ women, she is basically just the witch of the piece; it seems she’s there simply for the audience to have someone to fill the role of the villain; which is perhaps because the actual ‘villains’ are nameless locals who are simply brushed under the carpet in terms of characterisation.
It’s a shame because the ideas are commendable, and perhaps exploring more of the Yemeni culture would have given the film a stronger sense of the blending of different cultures; a theme that seemed to be central in theory. It is even something that’s mirrored in the cinematography. The visual contrasts between the city, the Scottish hillsides, and the deserts of the Yemen work incredibly well and there are some gorgeous sweeping landscape shots that draw you into the beauty of each place. However, other than the Sheik himself, who is a rather clichéd version of an exotic wise man anyway, we get no real attempt at exploring culture in the characters or setting beyond the weirdly idealised version of Britain.
Director Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat) is usually quite good at translating novels to the big screen, but here a lot of the ideas mentioned by the author (some of which can be found in one of the extras on the DVD) are barely touched on (with the afterthought of one line here or there being their only inclusion). The whole film seems like it could have been a lot more powerful if it weren’t trying to be so stylised, and instead injected a little more reality.
The picture is fairly standard DVD quality with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, and even though some shots where a bit soft, this actually complimented the ‘picturesque’ feel of the film, almost like a painting. The colours were rather muted, other than the few scenes with orange or blue backgrounds (representing the deserts and rivers), which are subtle enough that it never appears too ‘in your face’.
Audio is standard Dolby Stereo 2.0, with an option for Surround Sound 5.1, though there is nothing much in the audio track that needs enhancing as the soft bell tinkling soundtrack never needs to be more than background noise, and the dialog is always at a good, balanced volume.
We have two extras with this DVD; a making of featurette, and a nice accompanying piece from the author of the novel about the stories journey. The making of is as you’d expect; a brief explanation of the characters personalities by the actors playing them, a few praising comments on what Lasse Hallstrom is like to work with, the actors impressions of the themes etc, and a general sense of how enjoyable it was to be a part of the film, thoughhere are a few insights into the movies workings that make it worth a watch.
The second extra by Paul Torday, is nice if you are a fan of the novel itself, and it’s reassuring to see how happy the author is that the film has been made, and you get a little insight into what drove him to write a novel on such an obscure subject.
The Bottom Line:
This is an easy to watch, rainy day film, with a nice little uplifting story. Just don’t be surprised if the next time you pick up Salmon Fishing in the Yemen you’ve completely forgotten what it was all about, as there is nothing memorable to take away here.