Cinema Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

When nine hundred years old you reach, fish as good, you will not, hmmm?

DIR: Lasse Hallström • WRI: Simon Beaufoy • PRO: Paul Webster • DOP: Terry Stacey • ED: Lisa Gunning • DES: Michael Carlin • Cast: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Amr Waked

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is not an easy title to forget or overlook, immediately inspiring incredulous looks. Based on Paul Torday’s satirical novel of the same name. The politically satirical thread of the novel is somewhat lost in the translation to film, and what we are left with are the bones of an incredibly heart-warming and uplifting tale, which may not have been Torday’s intention.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the heartwarming and often painful story of a British fisheries expert who calls upon a consultant in order to aid him in realizing a Sheik’s dream of bringing the sport of fly-fishing to the desert. Sheik Muhammed (Amr Waked) believes that this peaceful sport will enrich the lives of his people greatly and expert Alfred (Ewan McGregor) is immediately taken in to his world and point of view. Unfortunately for the pair, the process is not as simple as they would like. The story arc is purposely set up to mirror the journey of the salmon, and in this way the audience is immediately aware that they are about to begin an uphill battle.

This is not a film that requires much of its audience. It is an amalgamation of genres, which is easy to enjoy and often touching, but does not linger. Ewan McGregor is effortlessly charming as Alfred and shares a great chemistry with Emily Blunt’s high-powered consultant Harriet. This is a much softer role for the usually bristling Blunt and may catapult her firmly into romantic lead actress territory. There are moments when generic boundaries blur and the movie threatens to abandon its dramatic aspect and dissolve into romantic comedy territory and, charming as these moments are, at times it makes the audience forget the purpose of the story, and turns slightly farcical. At these moments the film seems to catch up with itself and throw in an environmental warning or two as a kind of ‘time-out’ for the audience for forgetting our purpose.

It is not the sport of fly-fishing that holds this movie together for me, but the individual stories we are provided with, and the moments that set them apart from other films of the genre. Amr Waked is an enigma as Sheik Muhammed and his purity of purpose gives a certain power to the story. Whilst Fred and Harriet spend many generically appropriate romantic comedy moments together on screen, their relationship is complicated by marriage and partners to ensure that the audience is always kept guessing. We never quite know if we want them to be together or not, and there is something refreshing to be taken from this twist on a classic.

There are moments when the film seems to drag the audience along with it, and in these moments it does seem to be an overly long film for the genre, but somehow I feel that these long moments are intentional. We knew from the outset that for the audience, as well as for Fred, this was often going to be an uphill battle. In this way, director Lasse Hallström has truly succeeded. He has presented us with a film that is so like the sport of fishing itself; there is a lot of waiting around and watching still water, but when the magic happens, you forget the lost hours and enjoy your catch.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen may not be everyone’s catch of the day, but you may find yourself so charmed by our on-screen trio that you won’t miss the hours spent waiting. Feel-good entertainment at its finest.

Ciara O’Brien

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is released on 20th March 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – Official Website


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