Adapted by the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Slumdog Millionaire, Simon Beaufort, Paul Torday’s novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the whimsical tale of Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked), a man that wants to transport the beloved gentle endeavour of salmon fishing to his native country.
Emily Blunt stars as Harriet, the Sheikh’s UK legal representative, who seeks to enlist the very reluctant advice and expertise of the UK’s top fisheries expert, Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), a scientist appalled by the lunacy and implausibility of the project.
Buttoned up and encased in tweed, McGregor can use a heightened version of his own Scottish accent for his character that has clear Asperger’s tendencies. Blunt’s Harriet wears delicate woollen cardigans and her sophisticated softness bridges the gap between Alfred and the richly robed aspirations of the Sheikh. Together McGregor and Blunt are on fine form. Alfred and Harriet meet at a crossroads in their lives; one realising that they are nearing the end of a relationship, the other having just fallen in love.
Kristin Scott Thomas also crops up as the Prime Minister’s press secretary, Patricia Maxwell, and Scott Thomas is clearly having a ball. She also gets some of the best acid-tipped lines as her character expertly deals with politicians and the sullen looks of her teenage son. It is also remarkable in this day and age to see a completely non-botoxed actress on the big screen. It is a welcome sight made memorable for its rarity.
The film, however, enters very shaky territory with its portrayal of a modern day Middle Eastern Sheikh. Amr Waked’s Sheikh Muhammed is depicted as an otherworldly Christ-like figure with beautiful green eyes, romantically talking about faith. Even in freezing Scottish waters, he remains in full Middle Eastern robes when fishing – which magically dry in an instant – even in the Scottish winter. Though clearly his astronomical wealthy is derived from the oil industry, this is a Sheikh with long term environmental goals in mind and who can plunder the UK salmon industry with warm soft eyes and extremely deep pockets. The Sheikh feels more like a character from an 18th century romance novel than a modern national political leader. Waked’s Sheikh is an endearing character in and of himself, but the Disney approach the script makes him both one dimensional and somewhat insulting.
Director Lasse Hallström’s track record shows that he can elicit a real sense of connection between his leads and the narrative. This is clearly a whimsical story but overall feels a little too much like a Richard Curtis scripted view of the world to feel rooted in anything other than the general likeability of a well cast romantic comedy.
Special mention does need to go to Jane Marcantonio’s costume design as she steers each character through the transitions of their story arches with a lightness of touch reflecting the emotional evolutions within the film. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is an uneven film with parts endearing and somewhat maddening. It’s clearly meant to be taken with a pinch of salt and a slice of lemon to fully enjoy.
UK Release Date: 20th April