Book v Movie: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

(republished into its original place in the time-line from my lost post archive)

I went to see the film Salmon Fishing in the Yemen this afternoon based on the brilliant 2006 book by Paul Torday. I read the book last year and loved it, (review here), so I was crossing my fingers that the film would also be good.
Salmon-Fishing-in-the-Yemen-posterThe film stars Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott-Thomas, with the rather gorgeous Egyptian actor Amr Waked as the Shiekh.  It was directed by Lasse Hallström from a script adapted by Slumdog Oscar-winner Simon Beaufoy.
A great cast and crew, but I had read that the film wasn’t as good as the book, so I kept my fingers crossed…  I’m not going to dwell on the plot.

For the first three-quarters of the film, it stayed faithful to the book, and I even recognised some of the dialogue.

salmon-3The one major change was that the PM’s spin doctor changed sex for the film – Peter became Patricia Maxwell and gave Scott-Thomas the chance to play a prize-bitch. Being a very British film, the makers undoubtedly wanted to have a character that wasn’t a remake of the foul Malcolm Tucker from the BBC’s brilliant political satire In The Thick Of It.  This worked in that KS-T was perfectly cast, but she didn’t really get enough to get her teeth into.  That was the fault of the screenplay which often emulated the format of the novel also, which is largely written as e-mails, letters, memos, reportage, and then later diary entries. So KS-T was always on the phone, or typing at her laptop, and was reacting against the ether rather than real people most of the time, which rather wasted her.

yemen_2194951bWhich brings me to Ewan McGregor.  He’s so youthful and normally full of joie de vivre, that it was hard to see him as a hen-pecked boffin type.  However, he is now forty-one, and nearing the age I envisaged for Fred; dressed down in tweedy jackets and pullovers he actually fitted the role well.  Then, when he did his voice-overs for the memos and e-mails, his sardonic delivery and his character’s inability to tell a joke won me over, and I loved him as Dr Jones.  He handled the light comedy and Fred’s emotional confusion equally well.

I sat back and was enjoying the film: having a good chuckle, being amazed by Emily Blunt’s beauty, admiring the scenery, laughing at Fred and his wife Mary miming playing musical instruments in a baroque quartet (my biggest cinema bugbear – if you don’t play an instrument, don’t let the director film you pretending – it’ll always show). All along you’re rooting for Fred of course.

Then we reached the last reels, and a departure from the book… Yes, this is a rom-com. It can’t get too dark or satiric, especially in the last reels. Rom-coms have a formula, and you can guess where I’m going – I won’t spell it out for you.  The formula successfully diluted the book’s central message of having faith and following your dream, but acknowledges that dreams can be shattered.Salmon fishing

It was intermittently funny and romantic and had charming leads in McGregor and Blunt (plus the gorgeous Sheikh).  It lacked bite though. This was a definite case of the book being better than the movie – so if you enjoyed the movie, you’ll love the book.

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Buy the book from Amazon UK – here

3 thoughts on “Book v Movie: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

  1. Rebecca Foster says:

    Interesting to read your full take after your comment on my books/movies blog. I read the book years back but haven’t seen the movie. I reckon I’d like it well enough, but it strikes me that they’ve changed the tone to make it more of a romance. I’m surprised they managed to reflect the epistolary nature of the book in the film.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      This is one of my old posts that I’ve reposted (as I want to link to it in a new one tomorrow). They definitely upped the romcom feel in the film.

  2. Mohamed Elgamrouni says:

    Just like you , I was surprised by the shift from the book especially in the last 40 minutes of the film. Maybe the director wanted a happy ending but it’s not a good idea as the book is based on real events.
    In addition to the change of the gender of Maxwell , Marry also isn’t as extravagant in the film as in the book. The film makes you think it’s Alfred who wanted to break up with her, but she left him with no choice as a matter of fact. In short, As you said, the book is much better than the movie.

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