Salmon Fishing in Yemen

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Directed by: Lasse Hallström

Written by: Simon Beaufoy (screenplay), Paul Torday (novel)

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Kristen Scott Thomas and Amr Waked

A fisheries expert (Ewan McGregor) is approached by a consultant (Emily Blunt) to help realize a sheik’s (Amr Waked) vision of bringing the sport of fly-fishing to the Yemeni desert. This unlikely and seemingly impossible task ‘upstream’ is a leap of faith in work, life and love.

Usually inept advertising/marketing actually makes films better for me when I see the whole product. There are exceptions of course, namely Contraband, where the film cut’s the trailer to look like something that the movie isn’t. Very rarely you get a film where the trailer actually tells you in a very concise way THE ENTIRE STORY of a film, effortlessly giving you the 140 character abridged version of the 80,000 word novel, making your entire viewing experience redundant. Welcome to Salmon Fishing In Yemen. ***Warning, if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the film***

Director Lasse Hallestrom (Chocolat, Ciderhouse Rules, Dear John) does a fine job of aesthetically contrasting the bleak, dark and drab London origins of the story to the luscious, majestic greens of the Sheik’s Scottish Castle grounds and lakes that inform his passion for fishing. Writer Simon Beufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) rights great dry verbal sparring between the characters that allows/relies the actors to convey the intent.

Ewan McGregor is a fine dramatic actor that for whatever reason is at the mercy of rubbish casting a lot of the time. His stuffy, sardonic, bitingly sarcastic Dr Alfred Jones was a refreshing turn for him that gave him the opportunity to expose a rich dramatic core of a lead character protected in the comfort of what’s not possible. He’s a character that’s hard to read, and in the beginning hard to like -but I found it one of McGregor’s strongest performances.

Emily Blunt does a good job as Harriet, who is an antithesis of the abrasive (but very funny) characters that she’s been type cast into since The Devil Wears Prada. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a role for her character who in the beginning of a film is dating a solider that goes missing in action in Iraq. Blunt shows her range working through the uncertainty and constant grief very well. Blunt is an actress that I enjoy watching in Rom Com fluff far more than a Kate Hudson, SJP etc.

Kristen Scott Thomas plays Patricia Maxwell the head of PR for the British PM and in the openings of the film is a ‘one-liner’ comedic machine. She well and truly showed her comedic chops in the British classic Four Weddings and a Funeral and her bluntness and political incorrectness does make for some great, literal, laugh-out-loud moments. As the film progresses however, her character’s necessity to be the comic relief becomes a little tiresome and some of the story telling techniques, her instant message chats to the PM, also wear out their welcome.

The glaring problem that I had with this film was it’s portrayal of Yemeni/Arab people. Amr Waked played a pragmatic, likeable, faithful Sheik and he carried the role with sincerity. However, without spoiling too much, I’m immediately put off when an Arab character is portrayed in an unrealistic, orientalist, mystical manor that has two binaries. One, the religious mystical wise character, and the second a fanatical terrorist. It’s frustrating and these kind of portrayals are lazy and stupid. This really jarred me out of my viewing experience.

So it’s with that frame of mind that I saw Salmon Fishing In Yemen, which apart from some glaring orientalist, sweeping generalisations and characterisations of Yemeni and Arabic people was a cute and painfully predictable British comedy featuring a measured accomplished performance from Ewan McGregor.

Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman