Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen Film Review

salmon fishing in the yemenThe blogger otherwise known as the Scientist Gone Wordy and I return for another round in this parallel post series that has taken a life of its own. Given that some novels and movies are not readily available to my colleague in parts of the southern hemisphere, the tandem we were to have done this month had to be changed. We decided to go with something neither of us had seen or read.

The 2007 novel by Paul Torday, the intriguingly titled Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, was that choice. She with the author’s text, which won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize and Waverton Good Read Award in subsequent years after its release, and I taking a gander at its 2011 film adaptation. Rachel’s book review can be found here:

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

A brief synopsis of the film: Fishery expert and civil servant Alfred Jones receives an email from financial advisor Harriet Chetwode-Talbot seeking his assistance on a project. One to bring salmon fishing to the Yemen. An almost laughable endeavor, if it wasn’t already bankrolled by a wealthy Yemeni, Sheikh Muhammad. So when the British government gets wind of this, via Press Secretary Patricia Maxwell, for needed good news from a region in the midst of conflict that doesn’t involve the military, or explosions, his path is set for him. Whether he thinks it’s feasible or not. He’s not exactly being held back by his less than passionate, sterile married life. Maybe, something will happen. The sheikh certainly believes in it, and in the two people he’s employing to bring a miracle to his country.

[spoiler warning: some key elements of the film could be revealed in this review]

“When things get tricky in my life, I talk to my fish.”

Honestly, I didn’t know to what to expect from this novel and its film conversion. Truth be told, I think I’ve only fished once, and was not of my choosing. Later, the family I married into bore a striking resemblance to a few here flitting across the pages and rivers the story meanders through. I think at one time, they thought to convert me. Make me one of them. Yeah, about as liking as salmon fishing along the Wadi Dahr.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen title

This is the type of film most who admire romantic comedy find as ‘charming’. Adjective, defined as pleasant or attractive, if you look it up. The dictionary uses the following as an example:

“He was a charming, affectionate colleague.”

You can see the drift of what’s coming, I’m sure. The Swedish director Lasse Hallström and his screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (another Slumdog Millionaire award-winner) received credit for bringing about a ‘breezy’ adaptation of Torday’s satiric novel, just with a lot less satire. And maybe without some of the smartly disguised criticism of his country’s conduct in an unpopular middle-eastern war, or people’s social manners in this day and age.


That may sound a bit harsh, and I don’t mean it to be. The film has some great things going for it. The cast especially. The lovely Emily Blunt, the consistently good Ewan McGregor, and Kristin Scott Thomas chewing scenery with the best of them as a political insider who might be a tad less extreme a mother than say her Crystal persona from Only God Forgives. But, that just may be me, as this line illustrated when speaking to her hoodie wearing teen:

“Don’t you suck your teeth at me, young man.  I’m not one of your bitches from the Baltimorlow Rises, you feel me?  I’m your fucking mother.”

I may have enjoyed Torday’s novel a bit more than my colleague, one that looked at politics (on the international stage and at a personal level) through satire via a big ambitious project, one financed by loads of money, patience, and the unlikely element of faith. Both brought about by an extraordinary individual, Sheikh Muhammad (wonderfully portrayed by the charismatic Egyptian actor, Amr Waked in the film).

And reading the book right before seeing the movie may have cursed me.

I shouldn’t be critical. Some of the best book adaptations for the screen (The Dead Zone, Jackie Brown, and Jurassic Park, for example) changed the story around to condense aspects or improve the narrative to better fit a two hours or less format. Yet, they kept the spirit, so to speak. They tried it here, but to mixed results. Making Dr. Jones deal with Aspergers Syndrome rather than just stilted personality for one, Harriet only a semi-serious girlfriend to a British soldier sent on a black op instead of his fiancé another.

Oh, and change Peter Maxwell, the insufferable prime minister’s director of communications, into a Patricia. The last perhaps being its most inspired.

“That should do you for awhile.” ~ Alfred’s wife Mary, or what not to say after lovemaking

While the film, like the book, was not really about fishing, this adaptation did lack something. Oh, sure, I was attracted to the leads, the cleverness of their typed words visualized on the screen alongside the faces of the character typing them a nice touch, you still had to keep the essence of the story intact. And the filmmakers, or studio execs, just had to push on to the audience a happier set of circumstances than what the novelist imagined. It’s something we’re seen too often by corporate studios.

You pays your money, whether in romantic comedy or horror, the bodies have line up just so. It’s expected, and safe.

salmon-1Again, I must admit Torday’s tale came off considerably more realistic, yet strangely unsatisfying to this reader. The movie watcher in me could read the rom-com signs Hallström was telegraphing, byway of the changes instituted to the script, a mile off. And there lies the primary problem. As enjoyable as some of this was, the cinematography by Terry Stacey particularly well done (chiefly Scotland and Morocco standing in for Yemen), it’s too forced, ultimately.

The supporting players performed capably, don’t get me wrong. Alfred’s wife Mary (Rachael Stirling) mainly, and Captain Robert Mayers (Tom Mison), even though they were scant shells of their literary counterparts (Mary being one of most well-mannered shrews I’ve had the pleasure ever to truly hate on a page). Of course, if you’ve not read the novel, the film can be an unexpected tale of patience and love, with some pretty damn attractive people from that side of the pond reeling you in.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, being a character-driven story, tried its earnest best to bring two of them into nice focus care of an unanticipated yarn of men wading into the water for fish with no right be there, even with a wealthy, well-meaning third as the visionary. Whilst I would watch it again, somewhere down the line, the film did not entirely work for me.

Wonderfully done when the film attempted satire, care of Scott Thomas when her character careens screaming and swearing onto the screen, Lasse’s adaptation could not pull if off often enough. Mostly, as it tried to be rom-com comedic, too. The film’s dramatic elements may have played better if it adhered closer to the original story. But since that destined bringing death into the mix, or the distinct possibility these two would not get together by the final curtain, that was not meant to be. No matter whose vision.

Parallel Post Series

16 Responses to “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen Film Review”

  1. cindybruchman

    I thought this film was charming for a “chick flick”. I’m a big fan of the whole cast. I thought the Yemen Prince and his wisdom was the best part of the film and caused the film to ascend in importance.


    • le0pard13

      It does have that quality, Cindy. I, too, loved this cast. I think that was why I suggested it as title for us to look at in this series. If you enjoyed the sheikh in the movie, I really think you’d appreciate him more in the novel as the character had even was more depth there. Thanks, Cindy.


  2. The Sci-Fi Fanatic

    Great, honest review Michael.
    I tell you – I was stunned when this was nominated for best picture if I recall. It came out of nowhere.

    I haven’t seen it, but I feared many of the things you wrote about here.

    As you know, I really, really like Lasse Hallstrom (Haichi, My Life As A Dog, etc.) but this looked so breezy to the point of not much happening or so inoffensive it was boring.

    The trailer offered nothing at all to pull me into the picture and I was so surprised it was nominated. Maybe it felt too safe, but I suspect I will never take time out for this one. And Hallstrom is normally interesting as a director. I’m just not sure this was interesting enough for me.

    I shouldn’t comment. I haven’t seen it. So there ya go.


    • le0pard13

      Thank you, G. I have Haichi in my to-be-seen stack because of your recommendation for that noted Hallstrom work. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was enjoyable enough, but having read the novel before watching this, I found myself comparing it too often. Not a good sign, I suspect. If you ever take it in, I’d like to hear your appraisal, my friend. I always appreciate your thoughts and read. Keep’em coming and thank you very much :-).


    • le0pard13

      There are good things, most care of the cast performances, in this film, I liked. I just found things I wish the filmmakers had brought over from novel. It’s an interesting novel that gathered my interest, though I do understand why Rachel didn’t really like it. Thanks, Louis!


  3. Rachel

    You are so kind, Michael! I’m impressed with your diplomatic skills… Mrs. Maxwell would definitely have you on board. 🙂 So, putting out my warning again, I did not like it so have almost nothing nice to say. Just like to put those there so folks who did like it don’t have to run up against someone dumping on a film they like.

    I thought the book was so bad that the only way for the movie to go was up. I was wrong; it was just about equally bad. Bad in the same ways and with some adapted bad added in (speaking of adaption, it was very poorly done irrespective of my thoughts on the story). With the exception of Kristin Scott Thomas, I don’t think any of these lovely actors had anything to do. Talk about trying to muck your way out of terrible material.

    Speaking of that one exception, Scott Thomas was AWESOME! I’m a huge fan of hers anyway so I like almost anything she does but thank goodness she was in this. It at least gave me something to look forward to. Even her texts with the PM were hilarious.

    You know I don’t use designations like ‘chick flick’ so I can’t speak to the film’s aspect regarding those comments but it certainly did try to shoehorn itself into the romantic comedy mold (another mistake to lay at its feet) and it was terribly done.

    In addition to the film being just plain crap it was so scattered. There was a lack of focus to the narrative that made it very hard to figure out just what story/theme the film maker’s were trying to for.

    Ok, time to be done with this. Bit of a miss for us this month but I guess that sort of thing happens from time to time. Sorry again for inflicting this one onto our series. I know for me next month is guaranteed to be better. I’m a big fan of both the movie and the book Black Hawk Down.


    • le0pard13

      I thought you might like the film more than the novel, mostly because I know you really disliked it. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised it ranked equally low. At least we could agree on Scott Thomas’ portrayal of the political insider in the tale. She was awesome, and if you liked her chewing the scenery here, wait until you get a load of her in ONLY GOD FORGIVES. She dialed it up further.

      Her texts to the PM were indeed hilarious.

      I’d agree, too, the adaptation (besides those changes I mentioned) did seem a bit rambling. But, I did like it more than you, though left underwhelmed by the end. I didn’t mind the novel/film change as I was kinda curious about this film (and didn’t know that it was based on a novel when I initially heard of it). Anyway, on to something this month that is very much in our popular wheelhouse.

      Thanks, Rachel.


  4. ruth

    Great writeup, Michael! I know the film has flaws but I LOVE it regardless. I like the tentative relationship between McGregor and Blunt, though the romance is rather predictable, I didn’t mind it so much. I did however have a big crush on Sheikh Muhammad!! “…wonderfully portrayed by the charismatic Egyptian actor, Amr Waked in the film” Indeed!! I didn’t even pay attention to any other guy in the film ahah, and you know I LOVE the Scotsman McGregor! Oh, and I like KST in a comedic role here, that scene when she was admiring the guards at the Sheikh’s mansion is hilarious!


    • le0pard13

      There is some likeable thing in the film, Ruth. I can see why you enjoy it. And yes, the filmmakers selected a wonderful actor for Sheikh Muhammad. The novel may have even provided more into the character, but that didn’t make it on to the screen. KST was really it in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. That scene you speak of was hilarious, indeed. Thanks so much for the read and comment, my friend.


  5. reganking2013

    Thanks for a really thoughtful review. I’m a fan of Hallström, and love undemanding, charming, rom coms for rainy Saturday afternoons, but this one had passed me by. Now let’s just hope it rains tomorrow 😉



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