Thursday, 03 May 2012

Film Review: 4 May

Written by Barry Norman


Turning a daft idea into gold

Heart-warming, with a classy cast, this is good old-fashioned entertainment

barry-normanBWThe critics have been rather sniffy about this one, much as they were with Love Actually, sucking their teeth reprovingly over the fact that it isn't what it never set out to be in the first place.

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen is a romantic comedy with dramatic elements, adapted from Paul Torday's novel, and it's true that the comedy would probably have been more uproarious in the hands of the old masters at Ealing Studios in its pomp while the drama aspects seem something of an afterthought.

But if you see it for what it is rather than what it might have been it's a very charming, pleasantly sophisticated and enjoyable piece of light entertainment, much to be welcomed in this age of special effects and superheroes.

Here's the situation: Amr Waked, a mega-rich Yemeni sheikh hooked on salmon fishing, wants to build a dam in his native country, thereby creating a river in which salmon, imported from Scotland, will be free to run.

To this end his personal assistant, Harriet (Emily Blunt) approaches Ewan McGregor (Dr Alfred Jones), a salmon expert at the Ministry of Ag and Fish (or whatever it's called these days) for advice and assistance. Naturally McGregor pooh-poohs the whole barmy idea. Salmon in the Yemen? In the heat? In the desert? Do him a favour...

Ah, but the British Prime Minister's powerful press secretary, Patricia (Kristin Scott Thomas) loves the idea. At a time when any good news from the Middle East is to be embraced, Anglo-Yemeni cooperation on something as peaceful as this (well, not peaceful for the salmon, perhaps) is very good news indeed.

So the project goes ahead. Now Blunt and McGregor are clearly destined to fall in love but there are obstacles: he has a frigid, self-centred wife and she an army boyfriend, missing in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, as work on the dotty scheme progresses, they grow closer. Meanwhile, Yemeni terrorists have taken against the sheikh. They accuse him of bringing Western culture to their country, ignoring the fact that apart from introducing salmon he wants to turn the area into agricultural land, and try to kill him. When that fails they have evil designs on the dam itself.

Director Lasse Hallström perhaps concentrates too little on the comedy and drama but Simon Beaufoy's screenplay is intelligent and witty and the performances are excellent. McGregor has the most difficult role. He is stiff, prim, possibly henpecked and apparently (though not actually) lacking humour but he still has to be likeable and McGregor makes him so. There's a pleasing spark between him and the delightful Blunt, who is fast becoming one of our most notable young movie stars, and Amr Waked invests the sheikh with charm, humour and dignity.

But Scott Thomas, who should do more comedy, walks off with the film. Her cynical press officer was clearly apprenticed to Peter Capaldi's Malcolm Tucker in The Thick Of It, being sharp, scary and extremely funny.

All in all, it's gentle, very British, undemanding and – taken on its own terms – very pleasing.

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