Film a slow-mov­ing, but mean­ing­ful trib­ute to the glo­ries of the printed word

Calgary Herald - - MOVIES - CHRIS KNIGHT ck­[email protected]­ twit­­film

Come, chil­dren, and lis­ten while I spin a tale from a time when book­stores were so en­trenched, with their bricks and their mor­tar, that those who opposed them had to muster all the forces they could to level them, rather than just leave it to Ama­zon and at­tri­tion.

That’s ba­si­cally the story of The Book­shop, based on the 1978 novel by Bri­tain’s Pene­lope Fitzger­ald, adapted and di­rected by Span­ish film­maker Is­abel Coixet.

Set in a sleepy small town in coastal Suf­folk circa 1959, it tells of wid­owed bib­lio­phile Florence Green (Emily Mor­timer), who de­cides to turn a di­lap­i­dated old build­ing into a book­store.

It’s a simple dream, but it’s not shared by Vi­o­let Ga­mart (Pa­tri­cia Clark­son), an elite busy­body who wants the site for an arts cen­tre. The fact that Florence gets there first is a mi­nor im­ped­i­ment to a woman of Vi­o­let’s means.

Florence has an ally of sorts in Ed­mund Brundish, a lo­cal cur­mud­geon who hates people but loves read­ing. (An early scene seems to show him toss­ing books in the fire; we soon re­al­ize he’s merely burn­ing the dust jack­ets with their author pho­tos.) Played by Bill Nighy, he writes to Florence sug­gest­ing she send him what­ever she thinks might tickle his fancy; his dis­cov­ery and ad­mi­ra­tion of Ray Brad­bury had me warm­ing to him greatly, while clev­erly adding to that book­burn­ing theme.

Alas, he, alone is in her cor­ner, while the rest of the towns­folk are ei­ther in­dif­fer­ent or against her.

And it doesn’t help that she de­cides to stock the shop with a novel called Lolita, af­ter ask­ing Mr. Brundish’s opin­ion. “They won’t un­der­stand it,” he as­sures her, “but that’s for the best. Un­der­stand­ing makes the mind lazy.”

The Book­shop is a slow-mov­ing af­fair, but it’s worth watch­ing its stars go through their paces. Mor­timer man­ages to be at once brisk and halt­ing as she pushes ahead with her busi­ness plan; when the lo­cal banker de­clares that he falls asleep af­ter read­ing two or three pages in the evening, she tries to spin it into a pos­i­tive: Books can cure in­som­nia!

And Nighy is well nigh per­fect as Mr. Brundish, roused from his soli­tudi­nous ways to de­fend Florence’s book­shop, rec­og­niz­ing not just a source of read­ing ma­te­rial but a kin­dred soul in its owner. Not sure whose choice it was to give his char­ac­ter a slight stam­mer, but it’s an ideal way to hu­man­ize him.

Nighy, like his late con­tem­po­rary Alan Rick­man, is an ac­tor who can im­bue the most thinly writ­ten fig­ure with enough emo­tional depth to bring tears to your eye.

There’s depth to the film as well, which may have you seek­ing out the poetry of Charles Hamil­ton Sor­ley, or Richard Hughes’ 1929 novel A High Wind in Ja­maica; just two of its throw­away ref­er­ences. (And if you haven’t cracked open Brad­bury yet, you don’t know what you’re miss­ing.) No sur­prise to learn that Fitzger­ald her­self worked for a time in a Suf­folk book­shop; the love of the printed word in­fuses this cel­lu­loid tale.


Emily Mor­timer, left, as Florence Green is pit­ted against Pa­tri­cia Clark­son’s char­ac­ter Vi­o­let Ga­mart in Is­abel Coixet’s new movie The Book­shop.

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