This is the best movie of the year (at least, so far). It’s charming but not saccharine, sweeping but not grandiose. As it is based upon a book, story is paramount. It is from Lasse Halstrom, the director of Chocolat, after all.
Emily Blunt plays Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, a smart, sleek and organized asset manager. Her portfolio of clients includes one very wealthy Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked) from Yemen. He has a manor in Scotland where he loves to fish for salmon and wants to bring his passion to the desert. Chetwode-Talbot seeks out the preeminent expert on such things, Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan MacGregor). The two spar over the ideas that a cold water fish could live in a a place with no water.
Meanwhile, Her Majesty’s government is desperate for a positive news story out of the Middle East. Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) is determined to spin gold out of straw with this one and insists the project move forward. And so this unlikely trio sets out to do the impossible.
Research takes the team to the Sheik’s estate (also know as Glenbogle from Monarch of the Glen), vast expanses of arid desert, canyons and boring office cubicles. Each location is well-drawn, evoking a very real sense of place. This variation somehow makes the project seem all the more daunting, and more adventurous. Hallestrom uses each of these locations beautifully, including a couple of gorgeous scenes with low lighting.
The score too is very well done. By veteran composer Dario Marianelli (I Capture the Castle, Atonement), it seamlessly blends the music and sounds of all of these locations.
These three main characters are quite well done. Dr. Jones is a brilliant but socially awkward man. He’s very kind-hearted but doesn’t really interact the way most people do. Ms. Chetwode-Talbot seems to cherish British propriety, although she sees her own self fall short. She expects a great deal from herself. Sheik Muhammed is a philosopher who has the means to act upon his ideas. He is not just a rich man with a crazy idea. He wants to bring life and prosperity to his country. Mrs. Maxwell connotes the a turning point of Kristin Scott Thomas’ career, I think. No longer the soft, willowy heroine (English Patient, Horse Whisperer) she bursts onto the screen a la Kay Thompson in Funny Face and fills it in each of her scenes.
Salmon Fishing In The Yemen is funny, wise, sobering and inspiring. It’s not going to make the kind of money that a summer blockbuster will (though it should). But if you see it showing at a theatre near to you, DO see it on the big screen. It’s beautiful and immensely enjoyable.