A pleasant enough adaptation of Paul Torday’s satirical novel threatens to drown itself in some standard plotting and convenient plot turns.
With the exception of the awkward title, everything about Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is programmed to conjure up the feeling of snuggling into a warm blanket that may or may not contain a fish. Filled with beautiful stars, stunning landscapes on both sides of the pond and an unlikely romance against the elements, the film could almost be the travel brochure for the Yemen that Out of Africa was for its subject in the 1980s. Yet like any picture postcard, flip it over and you’ll get a mish-mash of stamps, compressed writing and surface level sincerity.
Following a PR disaster in the Middle East, the Prime Minister’s press secretary, Bridget Maxwell (Kristen Scott Thomas) is desperate to find a feel-good story from the region. She latches on to a series of communiqués from consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) to fisheries expert Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor). Sheikh Muhammad (Amr Waked) is proposing bringing British salmon to the Yemen for the purpose of fishing, and despite his reluctance, Fred finds himself inexplicably drawn into the Sheikh’s schemes and becomes hopelessly lost in the feelings he has for Harriet.
Buoyed by a solid cast of likeable actors, the first half of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen pulls in audiences in the same way that Fred Jones is compelled to join a mad scheme. The high concept behind the story is one of pure madness, as McGregor’s emotionally restrained character repeatedly reminds us, so a certain leap of faith is required to just go with it. This is incredibly easy for the most part, at least in the early stages of the film. Here it is more screwball comedy that sweeping romantic drama, where the inevitability of the McGregor-Blunt coupling is a foregone conclusion to everyone but McGregor. Yet there is a point where this comedy stops, at the film becomes a series of incidents designed to delay this eventuality.
Without any sense of irony, the film rapidly transforms into the selfsame warm and fuzzy story that Kristen Scott Thomas’ Maxwell is chasing from the start. Here seasoned romance director Lasse Hallström falls back on familiar paint-by-numbers elements that not even Academy Award nominated screenwriter Simon Beaufoy can manage to avoid. Terrorist threats and a last minute revelation feels tacked on, elongating this fishy tale past its due by date. At best it becomes the kind of story that requires little effort for positive rewards, but at worst the tedium of the obstacles amount to a whole lot of treading water before the destined ending.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is released in Australia on 5 April 2012 from Roadshow Films.