Last week I trotted on down to the Spectrum with a friend. We weren’t sure what to see. The Hunger Games? The Artist? Eventually, we decided we’d prefer something a little lighter. It was cold and rainy, after all. So we settled on Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
Fred Jones, a leading fisheries expert in the British government (Ewan McGregor) is approached by investment banker Harriet (Emily Blunt) for assistance in making her client’s dream come true: create a salmon habitat in the desert. The project is, of course, instantly dismissed as ridiculous and right at the outset we’re chuckling; the film opens with an icy email exchange between Fred and Harriet. Much to Fred’s chagrin, the project is spotted by the Prime Minister’s press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas) as a bit of “good news.” Poor Fred is seconded away from his cozy cubicle — not to mention his troubled marriage — into the wild, wide world. He never expected to become consumed with such a project, or his dazzling young colleague.
Of course there are obstacles thrown up in everyone’s way. Fred’s married; Harriet has a boyfriend (a soldier, who goes Missing in Action just as the project is getting off the ground). The Sheikh’s subjects don’t all agree with his plans for their wadi, to say the least. But the press secretary will not be moved! Everyone must push ahead, all the way through to the project’s (and the story’s) bittersweet end.
McGregor is, as always, charming. I especially enjoyed seeing a film in which he was able to actually speak, well…the way he speaks: with his fine Scottish accent. Emily Blunt plays the young but worldly Harriet in a pleasant, winning way — she’s of course much more sophisticated than our poor Fred, but we don’t dislike her in the end. It’s Kristin Scott Thomas, though, who steals absolutely every scene she’s in. It came as no surprise to me, though. Acting equally well in both French- and English-language cinema, as she regularly does, is only one of the ways in which she’s an absolute powerhouse.
It’s fortunate that this film stars such a solid cast, and was directed by such a sure hand in Lasse HallstrÃ¶m (Chocolat, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, The Shipping News), because the script isn’t exactly the most subtle. Pretty much every character is two-dimensional at best. HallstrÃ¶m gets the film out of trouble, though, with absolutely beautiful photography and a quick pace.
In the end, my friend and I walked out of the theater believing we’d made the right choice. The film was pleasant to watch; we both laughed quite a bit. And it didn’t end in a festival of rose petals, rainbows, and unicorns. Instead we’re left feeling hopeful that Fred, Harriet, and the Sheikh will be able to realize their dreams together…someday.