Hooked on joy factor
Is witty and wonderful, writes
T’S not often you see Ewan Mcgregor playing a stuffy, humourless Scottish nerd, but he does it remarkably well in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Everything about Fred’s life is mundane. He’s a government fisheries scientist who’s trapped in a sparkless marriage and is the kind of guy who gets excited about pictures of caddisflies and spiders.
This dull, domestic life is suddenly interrupted when a charismatic sheikh (Amr Waked) and his legal representative Harriet Chetwode-talbot (Emily Blunt) appear in his life with a ludicrous plan to introduce salmon to the wadis of the Yemen.
Fred naturally thinks the project is absurd, but the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman, Patricia Maxwell (played hilariously by Kristin Scott Thomas), believes otherwise. She’s desperate for a good PR story from the Middle East to distract from Afghanistan war disasters and when she hears of the sheikh’s plan, it becomes a ‘‘priority project’’, with a disgruntled Fred put in charge.
While the plot doesn’t sound too compelling, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a joy to watch, thanks to a combination of wonderful performances and witty, biting dialogue by screenwriter Simon Beaufoy ( Slumdog Millionaire).
It’s hard not to like Mcgregor’s Fred, as you see him emerge from his shell, with dry cynicism giving way to optimism as he begins to fall in love with the project and Blunt’s Harriet.
He finds a brother from another mother in the sheikh, a man who shares his passion for fishing and believes that bringing it to his country will foster peace, although his countrymen don’t always agree.
Blunt, as always, lights up the screen as the gentle Harriet, whose blissful life dating an army captain is thrown into disarray when he is sent to Afghanistan and reported ‘‘missing in action’’. But even with Harriet’s despair, director Lasse Hallstrom ( Chocolat, The Cider House Rules) stops the film from ever feeling depressive, as Harriet finds unexpected solace through her friendship with Fred and the work in Yemen.
Part of this lightness is also thanks to the comedy, which is peppered throughout, but comes in big handfuls through Scott Thomas’s brilliant portrayal of the sharp-tongued PR spokesperson. Her character also gives you an insight into how the cogs of the political publicity wheels turn – how things are planned to put politicians in a good light or get voters onside.
There’s an optimism that floods Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and, like Fred, you find yourself won over by this sweet, feelgood movie.