Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011), the latest feature from Lasse Hallström, features a host of British talent including Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor and Kristin Scott Thomas. McGregor plays Dr. Alfred Jones (McGregor), a buttoned-up scientist working in the Department of Fisheries and Agriculture, unwillingly drawn into a project aimed at introducing salmon to the rivers of Yemen – the brainwave of a rich sheikh (Amr Waked) with a passion for fly-fishing.
Sheikh Muhammed’s attractive investment consultant Harriet (Blunt) approaches Fred on his behalf, whilst the prime minister’s press officer Patricia (Scott Thomas) – a hard-nosed mistress of spin – jumps at the chance of a “good news story from the Middle East” and starts pulling strings to make it happen. Initially, Fred dismisses the project as the “bagatelle of a man with more sense than money”, consequently making a lot of impossible demands which Harriet is somehow miraculously able to meet. When Fred strikes up an unexpected friendship with the Sheikh, they both discover that they have more in common than just a love of fish.
Acclaimed screenwriter Simon Beaufoy must have faced a mammoth task adapting Paul Torday’s quirky, bestselling book, which is largely made up of emails, memos and letters. Underpinning both the book and film is a shared belief in the impossible and in faith itself. Sadly, Beaufoy isn’t quite able to work his usual magic on Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. On-screen, most of Torday’s creations come across as caricatures rather than real flesh-and-blood characters we can care about. When Harriet starts dating a soldier, Robert (Tom Mison), who later goes MIA in Afghanistan, it’s difficult to empathise as we barely know him or why she falls for him.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is further hampered by a ludicrous assassination attempt, the Sheikh’s numerous, bizarre costume change and a slightly implausible blossoming love between Alfred and Harriet, apparently nourished by their shared desire for the project to work. Scott Thomas provides some light relief but her deliberately overblown character, (evidently influenced by The Thick of It’s distinctive brand of political satire) feels out of place in a film billed as a romantic, contemporary fable.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen has already proved popular with audiences abroad but, despite a sterling cast, British cinemagoers may be more reticent. In failing to capture the subtleties and ironies of British humour, Hallström falls just wide of the mark.
Read our report from the Salmon Fishing in the Yemen London press conference here.