Dr. Alfred Jones, a fisheries expert, has been approached by a representative of a sheik to realize the possibility of salmon fishing in Yemen. Harriet Chetwode-Talbot tries to convince Alfred to no avail. Fate steps in and changes Alfred’s tune. With the backing of press representative Bridget Maxwell, Alfred is forced into taking the offer to run the logistics or lose his job. Alfred makes a series of demands, including a meetings with engineers and 10,000 salmon to be transported to start the new population. After meeting with the sheik, he becomes more committed to the mission and sticks with it even after the Prime Minister and Bridget begin to feel the plan is a waste of time. As the project hits bumps and seeks new solutions, the relationship between Harrient and Alfred begins to blossom, particularly as both of them feel the separation from their significant others. As the project gets closer to completion, there is still a skepticism is it is actually going to work.
Starring: Ewan McGregor (Dr. Alfred Jones), Emily Blunt (Harriet), Catherine Steadman (Ashley), Tom Mison (Capt. Robert Mayers), Amr Waked (Sheikh Muhammed), Rachael Stirling (Mary Jones), Kristin Scott Thomas (Patricia Maxwell), Tom Beard (Peter Maxwell), Jill Baker (Betty), Conleth Hill (Bernard Sugden)
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen contains a great group of acting talent to bring humor and compassion to the screen. Ewan McGregor serves as the skeptical, analytical Dr. Jones. Though he has someone with a vision and a load of money, McGregor only slowly lets his guard down and opens up the possibility that his situation is not entirely based on science. As the female lead, Emily Blunt has a fun wittiness to her that is matched by her charm and emotional moments involving the struggles with her boyfriend. This is probably one of her best roles to date. Amr Waked is just as strong in his role as Sheik Muhammed. He never loses his faith in the possibility of his mission but he is also very good with his deception regarding the true role of the salmon fishing project. Kristin Scott Thomas is utterly hysterical with her sassy, blunt style and her no-nonsense attitude helps to push the story forward. Rachael Stirling initially projects a great obliviousness to the emotional struggles of her husband but goes through stages of anger and regret after their first confrontation over his work with the project. Tom Mison plays his simple role of the kind boyfriend and war survivor and only projects a small element of emotion when his relationship comes into question. Conleth Hill, as one of the representatives of the fisheries department, serves as a great comic relief during the attempts to get the project going.
Lasse Hallstrom took the work of Paul Torday and transformed the book to the big screen. The story focuses on three major themes: the development of the project, the meaning of the project and the romance between Alfred and Harriet. The development of the project gets off to a rough start because of the apprehensions of Alfred and the difficulty getting all of the important players on board. As the project continues to grow, there were religious groups that struggled with defying Allah by using the dam to create a man-made river. What the sheik never clearly highlights is the fact his project has less to do with actually fishing for salmon in Yemen. He has greater dreams to bring agriculture to the land and help his people become more prosperous. The salmon fishing served more as a catalyst for expanding the dam project to creating the flowing river and introduce new opportunities to the land. For the romance side, both Alfred and Harriet enter the film with significant others, but both characters are confronted with difficult situations. For Alfred, he lives in a loveless marriage but does not have the courage to leave. With Mary leaving to go to Geneva, he absence helps to support working on the project and with Harriet. Though only having been in her relationship for 3 weeks, Harriet struggles with Capt. Robert Mayers’s departure for war. When his fate is uncertain, she is caught up in his potential tragedy but also becomes open to a possible relationship with Alfred, who slowly lets his guard down.
The film’s charm comes from both the entertaining love story and the comedic elements. The film starts with an email conversation between Alfred and Harriet, who do not know each other but already have a disconnect in their perceptions of the project. When Bridget gets involved, she has a anger streak with the Prime Minister, her staff and her family, but she comes off incredibly sweet in front of Alfred. Since the relationship between Harriet and Alfred is a prime part of the story, their interactions are riddled with the comedic elements. The first is the properness of their interactions. Even near the end of the film, Alfred still calls her Ms. Chetwode-Talbot. He openly talks about his failure to recognize humor near the start of their relationship and has a few sour attempts to tell jokes that still lead to humorous interactions. The sheik’s role tends to be more about the fishing element and a support for the budding relationship between Harriet and Alfred, but even he has a few good moments, such as his presumption during their first meeting after dinner at his estate. The significance of the comedic portion of the film is in its representation of the strong writing of Simon Beaufoy’s interpretation of Torday’s work.
This film is a little gem that may be easy to overlook with its limited release. There are few, if any, real issues with this film and can capture the interest of anyone who can appreciate a good, smart comedy.
Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5