A Lasse Hallström drama that casts its net wide, but only ends up catching the small fry.
Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy has updated Paul Torday’s 2007 novel for austerity Britain, as New Labour spin is replaced – or joined – by the constant wrangle for cash.
Kristin Scott Thomas has a lot of fun as monstrous government press officer Patricia; a BlackBerry-wielding Janus of Alastair Campbell and Joanna Lumley. Waking up to news of yet another bombing in the Middle East, she directs a room of "puffy Oxbridge morons" to find her a positive story in the Middle East. Cue one lackey Googling 'Positive story in the Middle East'.
That search unearths a charismatic and far-sighted Yemeni Sheikh (Amr Waked), desperate to modernise his factionalised country by introducing the great British tradition of salmon fishing to the wadis of the Yemen Highlands.
Enter the Sheikh’s management consultant, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), and Civil Service fishing expert Dr Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), a square, irritable man helplessly carried by the flow of the rush-hour commute and caught in a faltering marriage to a dismissive wife. "That should do you for a while," she says at the height of pyjama-clad sex. The polite but remote Blunt, meanwhile, has promised to wait for a soldier boyfriend about to start a tour of Afghanistan.
Both roles are performed with easy charm. Blunt moves from mild amusement to careful acceptance to an abiding attraction for McGregor, who, 41-years-old this year, isn’t quite as easy on the eye as the days of Obi-Wan. Yet he uses that ruddy edge of experience to develop the character.
Casting a shadow over the romantic negotiations of this fishing project – and the film as a whole – is the deep conservatism of the Sheikh’s people, who see his endeavour as an ungodly western invention and are set on violent sabotage.
While it’s unfair to expect a detailed lesson on geopolitics from a film like this, director Lasse Hallström seems unsure of how to deal with the material. His response is merely to flinch, and the kid-gloves approach to anything approaching aggression gives the film a coincidental and trivial feel.
McGregor’s favour-currying comment that the salmon "should be for them, not for us" is hopelessly trite. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen casts its net wide, but only ends up catching the small fry.
Good credentials, but that title?
Diversionary tactics for a Friday night.
Too light for its own good.