Salmon Fishing In The Yemen – Lasse Hallström
Personally I’d introduce one-legged clog-dancing to Mongolia if Emily Blunt would agree to help me. Britain’s two sexiest actresses hold this affectionate, if slight little romantic comedy together: Ms Blunt and the indefatigable Kristin Scott Thomas. KST, after some pretty heavy roles of late, has a ball as an Armand Ianucci-like barracuda of a Prime Ministerial Press Secretary. She adds a bit of feist to a Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionnaire) screenplay badly in need of it.
There are nostalgic echoes of an Ealing-esque innocence in this story of an eccentric Piscatorian Yemeni Sheikh’s eccentric plan to create a salmon run in the less-hostile-than-we-might-think setting of his country on the southern tip of the Saudi Arabian Peninsula. What’s £50 million between friends?
You can get someone from almost anywhere in the world to help you spend £50m unwisely; but if you want something cosmically daft, who better than a beautiful, totally unphasable, ‘can-do’ Sloane-ranger: step up Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt). Harriet’s impeccable military family background and intimidating Public School insouciance has effortlessly deterred rather than repelled all boarders until Capt. Robert Myers (Tom Mison) sweeps her off her expensively shod feet.
Dr. Alfred ‘Fred’ Jones (McGregor) provides dramatic counterpoint to Harriet’s worldly weary-but-wise sophisticate. Fred, with a scientific PhD in something ‘fishy’ holds down a senior advisory post in what used to be known affectionately as the Min of Ag and Fish. Living out a meticulous and scrupulous middle class dream-life with ambitious financial advisor wife Mary (Rachel Stirling), Fred’s contempt for the self-serving jobsworthism of his civil service employers is palpable and his passion aroused more by things piscatorial than psycho-sexual. With a Monday’s, Wednesday’s and every other Thursday-style sex life with Mary, Fred’s more basic instincts are safely confined within the invisible shackles of routine. “That should keep you going for a while” says Mary as she ticks off ‘have intercourse with Fred’ from her ‘to-do’ list before heading off for 6 weeks financial risk management in Geneva. This reminder to share the delights of the flesh probably sitting comfortably somewhere between ‘stock up on fishfood’ and ‘cancel the milk’.
Desperately in search of a ‘good news’ story from an endlessly controversial and politically negative flood of Middle East chaos, Maxwell decides to push a reluctant civil service into supporting the Sheikh’s pesci-project. This brings Fred’s incredulous, sarcastic scientist into the gravitational field of Harriet’s Miss-Fixit-for-the-sheikh. While Fred’s analytical mind and rational instincts wrestle with the objectively absurd irrelevance of the project, Harriet goes straight for the jugular: he’s got the money, so let’s help him spend it. Some of the best lines and most of the fun comes from these early encounters between ‘Ms Chetwode-Talbot’ and ‘Dr. Jones’. When they, belatedly, get on first name terms, the humour loses its way a bit.
Harriet’s torrid 3-week affair with Capn’ Mike is put on hold when he is dispatched on a secret Special Forces mission to Afghanistan and she and Fred start sharing quality time together with Sheik Muhammad (Amr Waked) in his Stately Scottish pile. “Your turrets are getting in the way of my signal” complains Maxwell.
You can probably take it from there, dear reader: Capn’ Mike is MIA – missing in action while poor Fred eventually struggles to be KIA – kissing in action. The Sheikh’s project comes under dissident attack; Fred in an unlikely fashion saves the sheikh’s life and a modest amount of suspense is generated waiting to see whether farmed salmon once released, will ‘run’ upstream to spawn like wild salmon. When in doubt – trust Darwin.
This is all harmless and diverting enough. McGregor and Blunt have a nice chemistry (bastard) suggesting they could have done much better with a tighter, more satirical script. It is true that McGregor underplays Fred to the point where you begin to wonder what Harriet would see in him, but Director Hallström keeps everything safely and predictably on track as one might expect of the Director of films like Cider House Rules and Chocolat. In common with ‘Slumdog’ and ‘Marigold’ before it, the ethnic, cultural tone of SFITY betrays that curiously English quality of being both respectful and patronising at the same time.
I’ve never been much of a fan of the ‘Ealing’ tradition: it always seemed too arch, safe and Middle Class – in a negative way: as if a discreet knowing smile is to be much preferred to a vulgar laugh. Curiously for a romance,SFITY is very Ealing-esque about sex. Fred represents that archetypical British male to whom sex is what the Higgs Bosun is to the Physicist: it has to be there as a theoretical necessity because unless it is, nothing else makes much sense – it lies at the heart of everything. But whenever you try to test it, measure it, try to understand it; it disappears because the very nature of what is sought is changed by the act of looking for it.
For romantics, a nice night out: for cinematic meat-eaters, a bit bland. But the playing is good and for we smitten ones, 107 minutes with Ms Blunt has its compensations.
“Hello. Who’s that?
Hi Emily. Thanks for returning my call.”
“One-legged clog dancing? Well it’s a bit like ordinary clog dancing but half as fast and twice as difficult.”
“Hello? Emily? Are you still there?”
“Sh*t. Now where did I put Julie Delpy’s number?”
Filed under: Lasse Hallström