Guardian Film reviewer, John Patterson, sardonically criticised Hallström’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen for “totally missing the boat.” Missing the boat I don’t quite think is true: grossing over $24 million, which for an independent film isn’t too shabby, and encapsulating that warm-hearted sentiment true of British indie cinema, the boat has hardly been missed. Rather, what Salmon Fishing lacks is the ability to rock the boat.
Meandering between drama, romance, comedy and diaspora, the film eventually leans too far to the romance. Given it seems there is always an audience for this – not that I’m at all meaning to incite a middle-class, middle-aged, Scot-accent adoring woman here – it commercially may not have been a bad decision.
Dreaming of bringing schools of salmon to his desert homeland, wealthy Yemeni Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked) imparts the task of making this a reality to his representative, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt). She then reels in skeptical salmon fishing expert Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) – in more ways than one! Aha.
McGregor gives a strong and comic performance as a man with Asperger’s syndrome, whilst Blunt suffers from dull characterisation and the formidable plot trap of the grieving woman. Really my only real contention lies with a few racial hiccups, bordering somewhat too close to stereotypes of Arab terrorists and the chattering British middle classes, which rock the boat not quite in the manner I mean. Nonetheless, good intentions were definitely apparent in the concluding hope and optimism for future race relations.
The water motif occupied most of my viewing time. The opening shots of salmon through water, tinged with pink and yellow hues, inspire a love of nature and all creatures. Comparatively, the stagnant pond in Dr. Jones’ garden reflects the stale marriage between him and wife Mary (Rachael Stirling). The Scottish river where the Sheikh and Dr. Jones fish is the grounding of their relationship, both wading together through the water and standing against its turbulence. The final shots of the Yemen River are the most poignant of the motif: the water constantly in flux like the relationship between different cultures and peoples, ever moving, reforming solid rock, and moving sediment from one place to another. It acts as a metaphor for displacement, diaspora, flow and collaboration.
The boat, it seems, certainly sailed in many ways. It was not rocked on the basis that it offered nothing new to the face of British independent cinema, despite it’s Swedish director, but nevertheless, it at least added some more quirk.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, dir. Lasse Hallström (2012, UK)