Based on the novel of the same name by Paul Torday, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a feel good film based around an unusual premise. It has some strange twists and turns that don’t quite fit the tone, but it’s an enjoyable hour and a half.
The premise is as simple as the title suggests; a cosmopolitan London consultant, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), enlists the aid of fisheries specialist Dr Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) to help a wealthy Yemeni Sheikh (Amr Waked) bring his unusual hobby of angling to his home country. Picked up by the determined and uncompromising Downing Street press secretary Patricia Maxwell (Kristen Scott-Thomas), the plan becomes a national priority, and a PR opportunity to form bonds with the war-stricken Middle East.
Director Lasse Hallstrom has made a beautifully shot and well-acted – but somewhat bizarre – film. It’s the quirkiness which lets the audience build a relationship with the characters but also makes the storyline seem quite surreal at certain points. That said, Dr Jones, being one of the biggest quirks in the film, is an immensely likable character. His slightly pathetic ‘nice guy’ persona, overlooked by a dominant wife and under-appreciated by an ignorant boss, is what makes the audience root for the plan’s success.
McGregor gives an faultless performance and the chemistry between him and Blunt is ever present. Unfortunately, the speed at which their relationship blossoms is dubious, and leaves the audience less invested in their romance than is to be expected. Kristen Scott-Thomas gives a fresh performance, combining great comedic timing with a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude, which contrasts sharply with that of the emotionally vulnerable Talbot. Described in the film as having a “gushing” personality, Talbot is a wonderfully relatable character; a strong, independent woman who really just wants to be held. The dynamics between the cast are interesting, and the clash of personalities makes for an entertaining film.
The quirks within the script, however, are not as entertaining. Straying away from the plot of the novel, Salmon Fishing develops a subplot of sabotage and conspiracy which tries to take the film in the direction of an action thriller, jarring badly with the otherwise feel-good nature of the plot. This unnatural twist leaves the audience at a loss, as the overdramatized (and somewhat clichéd) approach is unnecessary; the film would have been more satisfying if it had been left as a feel-good quirky romantic drama.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is an enjoyable, if slightly unsatisfying, movie. It has the makings of a great movie for its genre, with talent on-screen as well as behind it creating a beautiful picture. However, it’s the script that lets it down ever so slightly, with ostentatious and garish plotlines where subtlety would have been better suited.