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SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN

SYNOPSIS:
A wealthy visionary Yemeni sheik (Amr Waked) with an estate in Scotland, believes his passion for the peaceful pastime of salmon fishing can enrich the lives of his people, and he dreams of bringing the sport to the not so fish-friendly desert. Willing to spare no expense, he instructs his London based investment representatives to turn the dream into reality. It's up to the firm's Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) to shepherd the project through. This extraordinary idea needs Britain's leading fisheries expert Dr Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor) who thinks the project is absurd and unachievable. That is, until the Prime Minister's overzealous press secretary Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) latches on to it as a political good will story.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's undeniably a gee-wiz story, a high concept that Hollywood has overlooked: build a dam in the Yemeni desert and get salmon (from the north of Europe) to swim upstream in the man made river below. But it's not a Hollywood epic; steeped in English reserve, the design and construction story is pushed into the background in favour of the romantic thread.

Ewan McGregor plays a reserved Englishman whose dried up marriage has infected him with dullness, and McGregor layers his characterisation with a subtle Scottish determination. Emily Blunt is terrific as Harriet, the investment firm's hands-on rep for the Yemeni sheik, all sweetness and smiles, but sincere. The sheik (Amr Waked) is an oddity who sticks to his Arab dress code even while fly fishing at his Scottish estate; an English educated but Yemen grounded prince whose wealth and education give him freedom and influence. Yet he feels like an isolated and insecure figure, a stranger in his own land.

Kristin Scott Thomas is a tad over the top as the PM's press secretary Patricia Maxwell and has some wildly unlikely lines to deliver, but the filmmakers are trying to inject a slightly zany tone throughout. Devices range from text messages we can read (with graphics) to a caricature of a character - Fred's boss.

Harriet has just met a soldier Robert (Tom Mison), who is quickly yanked off to war duty, just as Fred's wife Mary (Rachael Stirling) is yanked off to Geneva for six weeks, leaving the two central characters in single mode.

This is too simplistic and contrived, and together with the perfunctory nature of how the giant project is portrayed, the film develops a certain shallowness, despite its well intentioned emotional track. Harriet's romantic plight is melodramatised when Robert, her boyfriend of three weeks is MIA, matching the heavy handed treatment of Fred's rocky marriage. Although we are engaged by the Fred/Harriet journey, these aspects diminish the romantic payoff.

The political flounces - both at the British and Yemeni end - are also simplistic and contrived: had Patricia Maxwell been more credible, there would have been an element of drama to underpin the humour. Likewise, had the attempts at assassinating the sheik (motivated by his enemies' view that he was importing Western values) been more credibly presented, it would have given the fishery project some texture - as well as the film itself.

All the great talents combined - from writer Simon Beaufoy and director Lasse Hallstrom to the principal cast - can't quite convince us of the film's overall veracity.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN (M)
(UK, 2011)

CAST: Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rachael Stirling, Amr Waked, Tom Mison, Catherine Steadman, Hamish Grey

PRODUCER: Paul Webster

DIRECTOR: Lasse Hallstrom

SCRIPT: Simon Beaufoy (novel by Paul Torday)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Terry Stacey

EDITOR: Lisa Gunning

MUSIC: Dario Marionelli

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michael Carlin

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 5, 2012







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