Film Review - Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
, the latest feature from Lasse Hallström (My Life as a Dog) features a host of British talent, including Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor and Kristin Scott Thomas.

McGregor plays Dr Alfred Jones (Fred), a buttoned-up scientist, working in the Department of Fisheries and Agriculture, unwillingly drawn into a project aimed at introducing salmon fishing to the Yemen. It is the brain wave of a rich sheikh (Amr Waked) who has a passion for fly-fishing which he is only able to indulge when staying at his privately owned Scottish castle.

The sheikh’s attractive investment consultant, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt), approaches Fred on his behalf. The prime minister’s press officer, Patricia Maxwell (Scott Thomas), a hardnosed mistress of spin, jumps at the chance of a “good news story from the Middle East” and starts pulling strings to make it happen.

Initially Fred dismisses the project as the “bagatelle of a man with more sense than money”, and makes a lot of impossible demands which Harriet is miraculously able to meet. When Fred strikes up an unexpected friendship with the Sheikh, however, they discover that they have more in common than just a love of fish.

Acclaimed screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) must have faced a mammoth task adapting Paul Torday’s quirky, bestselling book as it is largely made up of emails, memos and letters. Underpinning both the book and film is a shared belief in the impossible and in faith itself. Sadly, Beaufoy does not work his usual magic. On screen, most of Torday’s creations come across as caricatures rather than real flesh and blood characters we can care about.

When Harriet starts dating a soldier, Robert (Tom Mison), who later becomes missing in action in Afghanistan, it’s difficult to empathise as we barely know him or why she falls for him. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is further hampered by a ludicrous assassination attempt and the Sheikh’s bizarre costume changes. It’s also hard to believe in the blossoming love between Alfred and Harriet, apparently nourished by their shared desire for the project to work, against all odds. Scott Thomas provides some light relief but her deliberately overblown character, (evidently influenced by The Thick of It’s distinctive brand of political satire) feels out of place in a film billed as a romantic, contemporary fable.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen has already proved popular with audiences abroad but, despite a sterling cast, British filmgoers may be more reticent. In failing to capture the subtleties and ironies of British humour, Hallström falls just wide of the mark.

Originally published by Cine-Vue