Sheikh Mohammed (Amr Waked) is a visionary leader who sees his arid lands as something that could team with life – fish life. In particular, salmon. And, he is willing to spend the vast sums to accomplish this dream. But, fisheries expert Dr. Alfred Jones thinks the project is both absurd and impossible, until the chief PR flack, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), for the British Prime Minister sees the “good will” potential of the project, though, and plans are made to bring “Salmon Fishing to the Yemen.”
Pretty consultant to the sheikh, Harriet (Emily Blunt), takes the task of putting her employer’s dream in motion and contacts Dr. Jones with the proposal. Patiently, Alfred explains the impossibility of such a grand project, all the problems that would need to be overcome and, especially, the money required. Harriet promises the money and, with things so chaotic in the Middle East, the British government is looking for any feel good news from the region. Thing go into motion and let the project begin!
There is more than Sheikh Mohammed’s dream to convert his land to sports fisherman paradise – the sheikh is a avid fan of the sport but, more so, conservation. Amr Waked is terrific as the sheikh who asks the question, “Do you think I’m mad?” The answer hangs in the wind. Besides, at its core, “Salmon Fishing…” is a love story about two people (Alfred and Harriet), involved with others but thrown together in a common cause, leading to romantic sparks between them. It helps that there is a nice chemistry between Alfred and Harriet and you want them to be a couple. Of course, there are obstacles in their path but I will not spoil the stories about romance and fishing.
Amr Waked is charming as the maybe mad sheikh and deserves notice his complex characterization. Kristen Scott Thomas eats up scenery as the Brit PR honcho and has a great deal of fun, from the look of it. The creation of the salmon run in Yemen (actually, Morocco) is convincing and the peace and tranquility of fishing comes through.
Veteran director Lasse Hallstrom has always had a soft spot for whimsical storytelling. Just look back over the years, from “My Life as a Dog” to “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “The Cider House Rules” and “The Hoax,” among many others. He keeps that whimsical, fantasy-like tone with “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.” It is a likable film with a likable cast and a fantastical story. I give it a B-.
When news from Iraq is bleak, the British Prime Minister asks his PR Secretary Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas, "Nowhere Boy," "Love Crime") to counterpart. Casting about, she falls upon a project that Department of Fisheries expert Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor, "Beginners") had already summarily dismissed. Much to his annoyance, he finds himself meeting with consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt, "The Devil Wears Prada," "The Adjustment Bureau") about the possibility of "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen."
Over the years Swedish director Lasse Hallström ("Once Around," "Hachi: A Dog's Tale") has become a certain kind of brand, like the Pottery Barn of directors. He was the perfect choice for the type of films Miramax used to release, toothless commercial movies wrapped up to look like art house fare. With this CBS Films release, he's right in his element and at the top of his game. As adapted from the Paul Torday novel by Oscar winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy ("The Full Monty," "Slumdog Millionaire"), this one plays like "Local Hero" crossed with a less profane "In the Loop."
Chetwode-Talbot is a chicly attired executive with an impressive London office but she's insecure on the dating scene. When she meets Capt. Robert Mayers (Tom Mison, "One Day") she's over the moon - he's the guy of her dreams - but just as their relationship has taken off, he's shipped overseas. Dr. Jones is respected in his field, but his social graces are lacking and his long term marriage to Mary (Rachael Stirling, "The Young Victoria," "Centurion"), whose job takes her overseas, has gone stale. It's not difficult to see where this is headed, but the strange circumstances, exotic locales (the film was shot in the Scottish Highlands and Morocco, standing in for Yemen) and appealing cast make it a journey worth taking.
McGregor is quite funny as a fussy little bureaucrat who enjoys wielding sarcasm, but his boss makes his continuing employment contingent on the Yemeni fishery feasibility study. Jones points out that salmon must spawn in cold water and that Yemen is an arid, hot country, then pulls enormous figures out of the air as estimates and demands that Chetwode-Talbot drum up the engineers from the Three Gorges Dam. What he doesn't get is that her client, Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked, "Syriana's" Sheikh), has pretty unlimited resources and when he accompanies Chetwode-Talbot to the Sheikh's Scottish castle, his admiration for the man softens his resolve. Chetwode-Talbot, though, is delivered a blow when she discovers her lover is Missing in Action. Jones's attempts to comfort her are cluelessly endearing and the two begin to really work towards a common goal. Meanwhile Maxwell and Jones's boss are dodging the political firestorm that erupts when it's suggested that the huge numbers of salmon needed for the Yemeni project be taken from British waters.
Blunt is lovely here as the efficient administrator with a broken heart and the quirks she gives Chetwode-Talbot are nothing compared to Jones's - she even mistakes him for an Asperger's patient. Scott-Thomas is hilarious in the smaller, background role of the cynical PR monster, waving her cigarette and forgetting to filter her thoughts on various cabinet ministers. But none of this would work if not for the calm charisma Amr Waked brings to the wealthy Sheikh, a wise man with the good of his people paramount in his heart. What at first seems ridiculous, under his spell becomes miraculous.
"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" is a case of the familar dressed up with some new accessories. It's sweet and charming albeit predictable.
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