From the title alone, the task seems daunting, but this charming little British comedy swims along pleasantly, and leaves you with a smile on your face. Based on the novel of the same name Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is directed by Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) and stars Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt as the leads. Their very different lives are paralleling until they meet under the most curious of projects that will bring them together in ways they never imagined.
As tensions mount in the Middle East, the Press Officer to the British Prime Minister (played hilariously by Kristin Scott Thomas) is searching for some positive story to report on to counteract all the negative British-Yemeni news. When her minions come across the unbelievable story of a wealthy Yemeni Sheikh (Amr Waked) who wants to spend millions to bring salmon fishing to his dry desert country, she puts government expert Dr. Alfred Jones (McGregor) on as lead scientist.
Jones is a socially awkward “man of science” who is caught in a loveless marriage and a dead end job. When he is frustrated, he talks to his pet koi carp, or casts ink covered fishing lures at a picture of his boss. On the other end of the spectrum is Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt). Harriet is a high power consultant who represents the Sheikh and his vision, and is having a short fling with a soldier who is destined to be shipped off to Afghanistan at any moment. The two definitely don’t get along at first, but their working relationship will test their commitments to the project as well as their significant others.
The fun in the movie is seeing the whole project coming together. What Jones keeps calling nearly impossible, somehow finds a way to keep happening, and the Sheikh remains steadfast in his faith in his goals. He is a fascinating character, who links fishing with having faith in God, and tries to persuade Jones’ scientific mind that he is already exercising faith by casting a line into the water and waiting for hours for a bite, and that, “for fishermen, the only values are patience, tolerance, and humility.”
Plenty of obstacles get in the way of the goal, but the story is never bogged down too much by any of it. It is a whimsical tale, with a charming soundtrack that propels it along, and a wry sense of humor that is typical of Hallstrom films. McGregor’s awkward Dr. Jones learns to really live and to stop trying to take control of his life, while Harriet is taught that not everything is as it appears and to exercise a little faith herself.
As for bonus features, the DVD comes with two main featurettes. The first is titled “Miracles Happen,” and is a fifteen minute look at the making of the film, and a little more of the back story of the characters. It shows the filming locations of England, Scotland, and Morocco, (as the Yemen) and takes a deeper dive into flushing out the main themes of the movie and what drives the main players.
The second featurette, “The Fisherman in the Middle East” is a short interview with the novelist Paul Torday, who wrote the book that the movie was based on. It deals with his inspiration, and his parallel journey to bring the story to the big screen.