If you’re not a fisherman, it may be hard to get excited about fish. But if you’re prepared to take the bait, the light hearted Salmon Fishing In The Yemen might just get you rooting for the under-fish. And no, the title is neither clever, nor allegorical nor misleading. This film is in fact about salmon fishing in Yemen
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (‘The Cider House Rules’, ‘Chocolat’, ‘The Shipping News” and written for the screen by Simon Beaufoy (‘Slumdog Millionaire), Salmon Fishing in the Yemen covers a lot of ground — or should that be water? — ranging from romance and diplomacy to world peace and the ins and outs of fly fishing, all with verve and a sense of fun. It’s based upon the novel by Paul Torday, and revolves around a Sheikh’s dream of bringing fly fishing to his stretch of the Yemen River. You see Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked) isn’t just a visionary, he’s certified crazy in love with the ideals of fly fishing. He owns several estates in Scotland where he can escape the hustle and bustle of the crazy world, and what better way to do it than fly fishing; just you, the fish and the river!! Sounds beautiful doesn’t it?
Only one problem. Everybody thinks he’s got an idea that simply impossible. To begin with, there’s no river in the Yemen that resembles any river a salmon would be in. Secondly, Yemen is at the bottom of the Arabian Peninsula, not the top of the British Isles
It’s not a stretch to say the movie works in large part because of the charm and sparkle of the three leads: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, and Kristin Scott Thomas. McGregor plays Dr. Fred Jones, the country’s foremost fisheries expert with Asperger’s whose marriage to Mary (Rachael Stirling) has grown stale. Blunt is Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, the British representative of the Sheikh and the lover of a British officer (Tom Mison) who has been declared MIA in Afghanistan. Scott Thomas is Bridget Maxwell, the P.M.’s publicity officer, who sees the election and P.R. implications of every incident. Fred and Harriet are thrown together when they are recruited to work on the project of ‘importing’ salmon fishing to Yemen. Fred, while admitting it’s “theoretically” possible, likens it to a manned mission to Mars. Nevertheless, he’s intrigued and accepts project management for the massive, 50-million pound endeavour. Along the way, he and Harriet fall in love, but their relationship is fraught with difficulties no less daunting than getting farm-raised salmon to run upstream in the mountains of Yemen
The film’s central relationship between the shy, socially awkward Fred and the upbeat Harriet is easily Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’s most satisfying and sellable point. The peculiar alchemy that determines the success or failure of romantic entanglements in a production of this sort is effective. McGregor and Blunt click, making viewers immediately more forgiving of the film’s shortcomings (unnecessarily distracting subplots - one which concentrates on the fate of Harriet’s lover and another that focuses on attempts to sabotage the sheik’s project). An added incentive is the performance delivered by Kristin Scott Thomas, whose skewering of those who perform spin control and P.R. for politicians is as pointed as anything recently seen on screen. She’s ruthless and very funny, owning each scene as she barks orders with military precision. She steals the show
Amr Waked brings an interesting light to Sheikh Mohammed that we rarely see coming out of Hollywood. He’s a peaceful man with a vision, and wants to bring prosperity to his country, but not at the expense of the Western World. His positive demeanor is infectious and has the other characters believing in his project even though they know common sense says it will never work. At the same time he brings a humanity to the role, and is not simply someone bedecked in jewels and long white robes
Fishing becomes a metaphor for faith, especially for nonbelievers like Fred. Patience, tolerance and humility are all virtues necessary to fishing, the sheik reminds him. Sometimes, after hours of waiting, “in the end you are rewarded for your faith and constancy — with a fish.”
“I don’t know anyone in England who goes to church anymore,” Harriet says. “On Sunday we go to Target,” Fred responds
Ignore the title. Don’t worry about being subjected to 105 minutes of dry material about fishing. Don’t expect countless extended scenes of people lazily casting and reeling (there are a few of these, but all are brief). Instead, look forward to a nicely crafted love story, some beautifully photographed establishing shots, and an ending that is satisfying in an old-fashioned kind of way
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