Adaptation’s are often cursed films. They attract a huge audience automatically, by virtue of that audience having read the book, but at the same time have the added pressure of having to create a filmic experience that rivals the original. Often there will be drastic changes to the story, often the lead character will be woefully miscast, often the film will race through a plot that in a novel had time to develop at its own pace.
It was with trepidation then that I sat down to watch Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, based on Paul Torday’s 2006 novel of the same name. However, the film stands on its own merits and does enough justice to the source material to appease those who loved the novel so much.
Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) is a civil servant and fishing expert. His wife Mary (Rachael Stirling) is career focussed and planning on moving to Geneva for the foreseeable future, and his life has boiled down to bland, daily office routine. This is until he is approached by Miss Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) to talk about helping with a project to introduce the sport of salmon fishing to the Yemen, funded by the visionary billionaire Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked). Jones immediately laughs off the idea as ludicrous, but when the Prime Minister’s press officer (Kristin Scott Thomas) spots the story she sees an opportunity for a positive story about the Middle East in the wake of the conflict in Afghanistan. Therefore, the project is given the go ahead, with Jones reluctantly fronting it alongside the Sheikh and Miss Talbot.
The on screen chemistry between McGregor and Blunt is excellent throughout the film, with Blunt exuding the right amount of glamour and nervousness as she struggles to deal with the pressures of such a project and also with the news that her boyfriend is missing in action. McGregor too delivers a very strong performance having completely abandoned the confidence and charisma he seems to naturally give off. His character is meant to be dull, bored and somewhat emotionally stunted and, too his great credit, McGregor achieves this fantastically, though occasionally in some of the more romantic scenes his delivery feels a little wooden. On the whole though, McGregor seems to be in a rich vein of form at the moment, this film following on from Perfect Sense and the Oscar-winning Beginners. A special mention must go to Kristen Scott-Thomas too, who though always wonderful is especially good as the PM’s spiky, tough press officer, good enough to rival Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker (though with slightly less curse words).
It’s nice to see Lasse Hallstrom directing great stories again, too. This is a man who helmed contemporary greats such as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules and Chocolat, and yet his most recent films have been Hachi: A Dog’s Tale and the frankly appalling Dear John. Here he successfully attempts to convey to epistolary nature of the novel, making good use of visual effects to do so and managing to inject real poignancy into scenes where someone is reading an e-mail or sending a text message. Also, Hallstrom doesn’t over indulge in the glorious landscape shots as a way to distract from the narrative. The shots are there, displaying truly beautiful cinematography, but they are used sparingly. However, he does have a tendency towards the sentimental, and this is shared by the film’s scriptwriter Simon Beaufoy, of Slumdog Millionaire fame.
The ending of the film is completely changed to fit within this mould. It’s a shame because it completely breaks up the structure. The film is paced beautifully for the most part, but the ending feels very rushed.
Salmon Fishing In The Yemen doesn’t try and re-invent the cinematic wheel, but it succeeds where many recent adaptations (read: One Day) completely fail, in that it, ending aside, stays true to the essence of the book whilst creating a new and enjoyable experience, and one that stands alone as a piece of fiction.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is out now in US Cinemas but doesn’t open until April 20th in the UK.
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