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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

March 30, 2012
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen presents us with the story of a seemingly-impossible task that turns out to be surprisingly feasible: introducing Scottish salmon and salmon fishing to the Middle Eastern Yemen river. Unfortunately, it wraps it up in a seemingly-easy task that turns out to be surprisingly difficult: introducing Ewan McGregor to Emily Blunt. The fantastic first story is ruined by having the lackluster second one grafted onto it, lashed together with some truly awkward metaphors.

Bridget Maxwell (Kristen Scott Thomas) is in a fix: another bombing in Afghanistan leaves her, as the Prime Minister’s press officer, in desperate need of a positive news story about British-Arab relations to bury the bad one. Casting about aimlessly, she comes across a Yemeni Sheikh (Amr Waked) and his half-baked plan to bring his favorite sport of salmon fishing to the Yemen river he has dammed in order to improve the agricultural potential of his nation. With a remarkable disregard for anything resembling an unsinkable fact, she insists that it happen.

The Sheikh’s dealings are handled by the sort of British investment firm with fashionable young staff and preposterous furniture in the lobby, and in particular by Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt). She reaches out to the government’s fisheries expert, Alfred Jones (McGregor), who initially dismisses the whole idea as a joke. But when it’s a choice between making it work or resigning his job, he decides he may as well make the best of it, and at the Sheikh’s expense, no less.

Now, the efforts to pull off such an incredible feat as transplanting thousands of wild North Sea salmon to the mountains of Yemen could make a great movie. Look at Big Miracle as an example of a film about people accomplishing amazing things. But evidently there’s just not enough of that to make a movie, and they have to pull in an awkward romantic angle completely lacking in chemistry.

Don’t get me wrong: McGregor and Blunt both do good jobs with their characters — not as good as Thomas does, incidentally — but the idea of romance between these characters feels utterly forced. Worse, each of them already has a dramatic subplot: Alfred is having difficulties with his equally professional wife (Catherine Steadman), and Harriet’s boyfriend (Tom Mison) is deployed with British Special Forces in Afghanistan. Surely these stresses can provide the seeds of a supportive friendship between the two without having to escalate it to romance.

And it’s not like screenwriter Simon Beaufoy has the excuse that the romance was in Paul Torday’s novel; he’s plenty comfortable changing things, like slapping Alfred with the Aspberger’s label. It’s evidently not enough for him to be devoted to his work and hobby, and to have a sense of formality that goes with the older character he was originally written as. Thankfully, McGregor is marginally more respectful than the script is, but it’s still the sloppiest of shorthands.

It’s really a shame; the idea showed so much promise, and director Lasse Hallström made a lot of the parts work, but the romance angle was too great an engineering feat to be achieved.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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