x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen waters down political satire

The adaptation of Paul Torday's novel repackages the story as a romantic comedy.

Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor play an investment consultant and a British civil servant in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Courtesy CBS
Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor play an investment consultant and a British civil servant in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Courtesy CBS

Director: Lasse Hallström
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Amr Waked and Kristin Scott Thomas
**

Fans of Paul Torday's political satire Salmon Fishing in the Yemen will be left disappointed by Lasse Hallström's adaptation of the novel. It takes the sharp edges of the book, which poke fun at the complexities between the relationships of western governments and rich Middle Eastern states, and repackages the story as a romantic comedy.

Hallström, the Swedish-born director behind Chocolat, is a master of light-hearted crowd-pleasers. But in concentrating on the relationship between the likeable British civil servant Dr Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) and the investment consultant Harriet (Emily Blunt), he relegates the more interesting characters to supporting roles, mainly Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked), who wants to build a salmon farm in the desert, and the British government spin doctor Patricia Maxwell.

All of the characters are cliches of some sort. Dr Jones is a small fish in a big pond. A nebbish, bookish fisheries expert, he is naturally cautious, stuck in a dull but manageable relationship and initially sceptical about the possibility of building a salmon river on the Arabian Peninsula, but the challenge brings out all his best attributes. He needs them since he's rather taken by the sheikh's beguiling fixer Harriet, who says all the right things and knows etiquette, both British and Arab. Her fellow has gone missing in action in Afghanistan, one of the many touches that incorporate current affairs into the story without really making any cutting or worthwhile comment apart from on the vagaries of the heart.

The sheikh is all goodwill and doe-eyed mysticism. He should be ripe for comedy but, unfortunately, he's designed not to offend, so his blandness eventually starts to grate. It's such a shame for a character and a performance that deserve a bit more dimension.

The government communications director Maxwell is the saving grace. Clearly based on Alastair Campbell, she spits venom and pulls the strings in a rare but effective comic turn from Kristin Scott Thomas. Cajoling the prime minister to her way of thinking, she sees the venture as an opportunity for a rare bit of good PR between the British government and a Muslim country. If only the director had a bit more of her cutting attitude.