By Caitlyn Collins | March 8, 2012
Director: Lasse Hallström
Writers: Simon Beaufoy(screenplay), Paul Torday (novel)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Amr Waked, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Mison, Rachael Stirling
I’m a big fan of Ewan McGregor, and for that reason alone I was curious about Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I was curious about it because of director Lasse Hallström as well. But first, back to McGregor. Hearing him deliver dialogue with his natural accent was a pleasant surprise, as McGregor seems to have been cast using an American accent for quite some time. He’s charmingly proper as Dr. Alfred Jones, an expert on all things fish. A married man who rarely deviates from his routines, Dr. Jones is called into a meeting with Ms. Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), a high-powered consultant to a Yemeni sheikh (Amr Waked).
The sheikh is an avid fisherman, proven by the fact that he is familiar with Dr. Jones’ personal fly. (How anyone can distinguish one fishing fly from another is beyond me, but then again, I’m not an avid fly fisher.) Despite Yemen being a desert country, he wants Dr. Jones’ help in creating a viable salmon fishing industry. When Dr. Jones takes an initial project meeting with Ms. Chetwode-Talbot he’s insulted by the very absurdity of the idea. In order to prove his point, Dr. Jones throws out meeting requests with some of the world’s top scientists, a suggestion for the minimum number of salmon required to be flown (alive) to Yemen, and last, but not least, the very thing necessary for all absurd projects, an enormous budget. When Ms. Chetwode-Talbot begins tackling his demands, Dr. Jones is forced to take the project a bit more seriously.
Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister’s Communications Director Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) is salivating for a positive news-story from the Middle East as more British troops are losing their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. She gets involved trying to force the project along hoping it will boost the Prime Minister’s image and Middle Eastern relationships. Thomas’ performance as a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, ball-buster adds a welcome dash of humor.
And speaking of relationships, is this film just maybe a romantic comedy? I question that because I’m honestly unsure. While I laughed at moments – both during scenes where one is supposed to laugh and during scenes where I just couldn’t help myself – I wouldn’t say this film is a comedy. And I’m not sold on the romance part either. Just before embarking on the salmon project, Harriet begins seeing Robert (Tom Mison), a British soldier sent overseas to Afghanistan. Their three week fling takes a heavy turn when he asks her to wait for him. Harriet is in a vulnerable emotional state and Alfred’s marriage lacks any romance and is falling apart. Perhaps the circumstances are perfect for these two to fall in love, but there seems to be an overall lack of chemistry that makes the situation difficult to swallow.
Many people are against the sheikh and his desire to implement a fishing program in his country, including his own people. It’s beyond unfortunate that terrorism continues to be synonymous with anything happening in the Middle East. Terrorists attempt to thwart the sheikh’s project however they can, but luckily Dr. Jones knows how to wield his fly hook and rod.
Parts of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen are beautifully shot and overall the acting isn’t terrible. I just found the whole movie a bit over the top. It seems like the writers couldn’t decide if it was a comedy or a drama, and as a result a lot of the plot feels forced and falls flat. Middle Eastern politics, terrorism, ecology, love, and faith can all be difficult topics to handle. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen doesn’t do the best of jobs juggling them all at once.