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SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN (director: Lasse Hallström; screenwriter: based on the novel by Paul Torday/Simon Beaufoy; cinematographer: Terry Stacey; editor: Lisa Gunning; music: Dario Marianelli; cast: Emily Blunt (Harriet Chetwode-Talbot), Ewan McGregor (Dr. Alfred Jones), Kristin Scott Thomas (Patricia Maxwell), Amr Waked (the Sheik, Muhammad), Tom Mison (Robert), Rachael Stirling (Mary Jones), Conleth Hill (Bernard Sugden); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Paul Webster; CBS Films; 2011)

“Guts most of the edgy features of the novel.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Swedish filmmaker Lasse Hallström (“Chocolat”/”The Cider House Rules”/”My Life As a Dog”)takes the snap out of Paul Torday’s 2007 comic bestseller on the Blair government getting bent out of shape to back a loopy project to promote Anglo-Arab relations. Writer Simon Beaufoy guts most of the edgy features of the novel to bring it into line as a familiar syrupy Hallström feel-good romcom, with the politics diluted as merely background for a bland romantic tale.Good acting by the stars considerably lifts this pedestrian film from being mired in the mud.

A wealthy, eccentric, visionary sheik from Yemen, Sheik Muhammad (Amr Waked), believes his obsession for salmon fishing in Scotland can be brought to his hostile desert country to give his people new hope for the future and is willing to spare no expenses for the project.

Harriet (Emily Blunt) is a sharp single London businesswoman agent for the Brit public relation company the sheik hired to represent him with selling the idea to the Brit government. Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) is the stuffed-shirt careerist working at the government’s fishery department as a fishing expert, who finds the idea ridiculous but is forced to change his mind when his political savvy bureaucratic boss (Conleth Hill) is visited by the the PM’s haughty press secretary, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), who wants to use this project to promote better relations between Great Britain and the Arab countries of the Middle-East. Her eyes widen when she learns that there are over 2 million fishermen in her country who are voters and that the seemingly impossible project might work after all because Dr. Jones has a plan of shipping 10,000 North Atlantic salmon to Yemen that can be carried out because of the unique construction work on the dam accomplished by Chinese engineers.

Romance surprisingly comes about between the married Jones when he has a midlife crisis and realizes he’s in a loveless marriage with his cold careerist businesswoman wife Mary (Rachael Stirling) and that he’s attracted to the lively Harriet, who found out her soldier boyfriend Robert (Tom Mison), of three weeks, is MIA in Afghanistan and is presumed to be dead.

Complexities arise on all fronts from terrorist attacks on the project, the progressive sheik saddened his people don’t appreciate his gift to them, the bitter reaction Mary has when hubby is forced to tell her he loves Harriet, and with the safe return of Robert forcing Harriet to choose between the rivals.

In spite of the film offering many good scenes, a promise of an unpredictable screenplay, attractive location shots (Morocco subbing for Yemen), charming performances by the leads, the feel-good pic still turns out to be predictable and superficial–as it hooks a fish that has to be thrown back because it’s too small.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”