Based on a successful novel of the same name by Paul Torday, the improbably titled Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a romantic drama comedy directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Based on a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours), Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is as charming as it’s vistas of Scotland and Yemen that it presents. It was partially funded by a grant from the National Lottery and was released by a combination of BBC Films, Lionsgate and the UK Film Council.
Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) works for the British Government and is an expert in fisheries. He is contacted by consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) regarding a bold new plan by Sheikh Muhammad (Amr Waked) to introduce salmon fishing in Yemen as part of a big irrigation plan for the area. Initially reluctant due to the high chance of failure, Jones is ordered to take on the job to enhance Anglo-Arab relations by the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas). Harriet and Alfred become close as they both suffer breakdowns in their other relationships and moved by the words of the Sheikh they become invested in the project, despite all of the problems that it brings.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen takes an interesting and popular sourece material, removes some of the more acerbic elements to present a thoroughly charming, if slightly toothless romantic drama comedy. The sad parts are not too sad and the romantic moments walk the line between slushy and convincing, but it’s in the comedy where it really excels. Thomas’ performance as the ice cold PR rep is the standout as she almost spits venomous line after venomous line and helps ground the more sentimental elements surrounding the film. Combine this with a great turn by McGregor as the obviously Aspergers-suffering brainiac and Blunt’s poised and interesting Chetwode-Talbot and you have a lead trio with some clout. In many ways it’s reminiscent of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in terms of style and content.
Where Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is at its weakest is in the moments of romance and self-reflection between the leading actors and the pseudo-profound Sheikh. Amr Waked is great as the forward-thinking Skeik, and luckily, just as you think he is going to overstep into real sentimental nonsense, he is able to disarm the situation by being self-depricating. He could easily have been portrayed as a comic character, but Waked’s performance makes him engaging and interesting and you begin to believe, like him, that there really could be some salmon fishing in the Yemen.
Condensing a complicated 300-page novel into a serviceable 2-hour film is always a difficult job, yet in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Hallstrom has done a very good job. Elements like an odd attempt on the Sheikh’s life are reduced to mere minutes and is quickly ignored as soon as it’s happened, giving more time to McGregor and Blunt’s relationship to be explored. It works best in the first two thirds, before running out of steam a bit at the end. Luckily you have enough invested in the characters (Blunt giving a career best performance) to stay with it.