Sunday, 6 May 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: Book vs Film

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the story of an extremely wealthy Sheikh who enjoys Salmon fishing in his Scottish home so much, he wants to introduce the sport back home in the Yemen. So Harriet, a woman who works for the company that look after his many estates, enlists the help of fisheries expert Dr. Alfred Jones to plan the project and make it work.

But Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is not really about Salmon, more the journey each of the characters takes during the whole process. Harriet is a strong woman, persuading Dr Jones to come on board with the project against his better judgement. However, she's also incredibly fragile as she writes letters to her fiance Robert while he is away at war. Dr Jones is in a practical and altogether loveless marriage, accustomed to the civility and monotony of everyday life. He believes the project is utter rubbish but when politicians get involved and make it a high-priority project, he is forced to take part. The Sheikh is a spiritual man, wanting the sport in the Yemen as a way to blur class boundaries and unify his people - though the people in the Yemen do not agree with his plans. He is the kind of awe-inspiring man that leaps off the page and will have many readers wishing they could have met him.

Overall, the developing friendship between the Sheikh, Harried and Alfred is what makes the story so fascinating. The Sheikh's beliefs and way of looking at the world eventually start to rub off on the pragmatic Dr Jones and he begins to realise that perhaps there is more to life than what he currently has with his wife. Harriet, a woman who must keep her cool in all situations, is struggling without her fiance and not hearing from him unnerves her. 

The end of the book though is utterly shocking and breaks with convention in every way. Though some unexpected endings work well, this one seemed completely out of place and was ultimately quite jarring and unsatisfactory.  Due possibly to the constant shift in styles, it also doesn't feel like it really ends - it just stops.  I actually turned the page to see what happened next and realised there was no more.

Paul Torday's book was interesting in its delivery thanks to the combination of communications - there are emails, letters, memos and interview transcriptions. This makes it an easy book to dip in and out of. There are no chapter headings, only shifts in communication style. There is comedy, drama and emotion. Overall, it was an interesting concept but left a little to be desired in its execution.

Sadly, one rather central character - that of the Prime Minister's right-hand man Peter Maxwell - is utterly self-serving and dull to read. When there were pages and pages of his interview, I found myself skimming through them. In the adaptation, the biggest stroke of genius was turning the dull Peter Maxwell into the hilariously cheeky Patricia Maxwell. Kristin Scott Thomas breathed life into a tired role with a brilliantly witty and humorous performance. She stole the screen every time she appeared and had many viewers grinning from ear to ear.

Emily Blunt was also great casting in the role of Harriet, oozing both professional charm and a fragility in equal measure. Sadly though, in making her fiance Robert her boyfriend of only a few weeks, the stress and anguish she feels at his being at war feels a little over the top. Amr Waked was good in the role of the Sheikh but sadly did not quite live up to the sheer presence of the character which Torday wrote so beautifully. Ewan McGregor was brilliantly cast as Dr Jones, delivering his lines with a monotony and dryness that somehow made him more endearing. The changes he goes through as the story develops are done with such subtlety that you often don't realise they've happened until after the event. 

The film also uses the communication style of the book well, incorporating the use of emails with screenshots and voiceovers, texts and even a rather entertaining speech bubble instant message function between Maxwell and the Prime Minister. 

The film, directed by Lars Hallström (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat), managed to iron out many of the kinks that existed in the book, bringing humour to a dull central role and shifting the focus more to the developing friendship between the three main characters. However, just when I thought the end of the book was jarring, the filmmakers decided to completely change it for the film. This story is not all about the ending luckily, so the film is not completely destroyed for the change - and for those who haven't read the book, it may well have worked. However, the filmmakers reluctance to part with any of the characters turned a shocking ending into a sentimental one. The result was a cute, nice film which will no doubt make audiences smile but could have been far braver.

Book - 3/5
Film - 3/5


  1. Really enjoyed your blog, mate. More power to you!

  2. Totally agree with your assessment.

    1. I saw the preview for this movie and it looks like it could be good!

  3. I was stunned, as the the ending (of the book) wasn't simply changed in the film, it was utterly reversed. The cheesy, sentimental, "and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after" substitution proved a lame finale, missing the opportunity - so bravely taken by the novel - to embrace ruin in a meaningfully desolate manner.