Review of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

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A breezy adaptation of Paul Torday's satiric novel, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, this 2011 romantic comedy-drama of the same name begins when Bridget (Kristin Scott Thomas), the prime minister's overzealous press secretary, reads about a fabulously wealthy sheik (Amr Waked) who longs to bring fly-fishing to the desert. She believes that cooperation with his country would be good for Britain's image, while the sheik has more altruistic goals in mind.
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Movie Review: "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen"

--Rating: PG-13 (Some violence, language, sexual content)
Length: 107 minutes
Release Date: March 9, 2012
Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom
Genre: Drama/Romance/Comedy

"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" is a strange name for a movie. It is based on the romantic novel of the same name by Paul Torday, but it sounds more like a how-to sports book. In reality, it is a sweet and well-acted romantic drama with a nice sprinkle of comic relief.

Ewan McGregor stars as Dr. Alfred Jones, a fisheries expert who is stuck in a crumbling, loveless marriage. He meets Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked), who loves nothing more than fly fishing for salmon. Unfortunately the Sheikh is from Yemen, a country that is so dry that salmon cannot survive naturally. He hatches a plan to build a huge man-made river where salmon could not only live, but thrive and reproduce for many generations.

At first, Alfred is alarmed by the project and thinks it is impossible. As he spends more time with the Sheikh, he begins to change his opinion. They learn from each other as the man of faith (the Sheikh) and the man of science (Alfred) exchange their views of the world and forge a growing and respectful bond. Alfred's objections to the project soon begin to dissipate.

With Albert now on board, the only problem is that salmon are not native to Yemen, so they must be transported there once the water structure is built. That is where Alfred comes in. Since his expertise is salmon, the Sheikh would like to give him the task of safely transporting 10,000 salmon to Yemen to make his dream of being able to salmon fish in his native country a reality.

This premise may seem a little outrageous, but it sets up the story very nicely. The British Prime Minister would like to improve British-Yemini relations, so he decides to help the Sheikh with his project. That is where Harriet (Emily Blunt) comes in; she assists Albert with this huge undertaking. Overseeing things to make sure there are no public relations nightmares throughout the duration of this project is the Prime Minister's assistant, Patricia Maxwell (Kristen Scott Thomas).

From their first few scenes together, Albert and Harriet display an easy, charming chemistry. It is fairly obvious that these two are slowly falling in love with each other. The problem is that not only is Albert married to Mary (Rachael Stirling), but Harriet's soldier fiancé is missing in action. Her muddled feelings over whether she should move on with her life or cling to hope that he is still alive are on full display as she gets closer to Albert.

Director Lasse Hallstrom could have easily gone for straight drama here like he did in 2010's "Dear John." Instead, he infuses the movie with lots of humor. This is especially true of all the scenes with Kristen Scott Thomas in them. She is a wonderful dramatic actress, but she rarely gets to show anything beyond that. Even in the comedy "Four Weddings and a Funeral," her character was mostly morose and dour. In this film, she gets to really sink her teeth into a comedy role. Those who are offended by salty language may not find her funny, but her scenes are great and provide the comic relief in the film.

As the project comes together, Albert and Harriet begin to come together as well. Whether they will actually end up together or not is the big question. Though this is partly a comedy, it is more a romantic drama than anything else. This, of course, means that there must be a big twist towards the end of the movie. The fallout from this big twist will have a huge impact on the two would-be lovers. It also has an impact on whether or not the big salmon project will be finished, though this plot point is secondary to the love story at the core of the movie.

Dario Marianelli's original score nicely sets the backdrop for this classic love story. The screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) keeps all the banter light and somewhat airy. Also being kept light is the possibility of terrorism stopping the project. It turns out that certain Yemini extremists feel that the Sheikh is doing something terrible in bringing salmon fishing to his homeland. There is a small subplot with a potential bombing that feels a little out of place in this otherwise breezy love story. Thankfully, this subplot is quickly dispatched and does not interfere with the rest of the film.