Salmon fishing in the Yemen
Wed 12 October 2016
Most movies are just faint shadows of what the original book was, but in case of “Salmon fishing in the Yemen“ it is more true than it is convenient. My story with this story started by reading the review by Roger Ebert. I left the reading of the movie with a mixed feelings. On the one hand obviously Roger pointed out flaws which were real. On the other hand, comments on the review are firestorm of criticism explaining that Roger completely missed the point of the movie, and he is also factually mistaken in couple of points.
In the end I was so intrigued by the review and its comments, that I have watched it myself. I liked both main actors (Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor), but I was sorely disappointed with the script. So, I wrote this comment:
[…] I saw the movie, and I have to say it was a huge disappointment. Yes, pictures were nice, but still it seemed awkward … like the original idea of the movie is “how to get Arabian sheik fishing in Scotland into the movie?”.
But more disappointed I was with the plot. My hope with the British movies is that they are not always completely stereotypically made by the Hollywood template (I love “The Englishman Who Went up a Hill but Came down a Mountain”, for example, and not only because of its name), but this was 100% boilerplate … “Guy meets girl; both of them kick off their current friend/spouse for no particular reason, and they love each other for ever and ever”.
What if something was different than the boilerplate? Couple of ideas. What if Robert actually did die (sealed coffin not to show just the pieces returning from Afghanistan would look lovely) and Harriet actually went through real mourning? Or what if the movie ended á la “Once” … “I actually care more about my marriage! Yes, I need partner in rebuilding the project, and she is my wife!” (she was some kind of manager as well, wasn't she?) or “F**k the sheik! I want to be fisher expert on fish in Le lac de Genève and try to rebuilt my marriage again”. There are many options how not make movie boring, but they just went cheap way for the boilerplate.
Then I read the book. And I was surprised to find that its author was actually closer to some of the points I have suggested than the script writer. Yes, the Robert (and many others) in the book actually did die, and no, Alfred and Mary did not get divorce, and no, Albert and Harriet don’t fall into each other arms in the end. Although, the result is a way more complex (and better) than what I was suggesting.
Also, the business of movie making and cynicism of it:
The screenplay for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was written by Simon Beaufoy, based on the novel by Paul Torday. Beaufoy acknowledged, “I just love adapting material that allows room for creativity and allows room for me to be very present in the process, I suppose. Sometimes when you’re adapting something classic and famous you have to adopt a different attitude, to something like Salmon Fishing where it had such an unusual narrative and such an unusual structure, that you got quite a free reign [sic] to do interesting things with it.”
Couldn’t Beaufoy see that he sounds exactly like Peter Maxwell when looking at the farmed salmons and not recognizing between fake and the real thing? That what he actually said was “Who cares that the author won awards for this book, I know better, I won’t follow the story of the book, and write my own trash instead!”
So much for the obvious problems with the movie. However, there is more. The thing missed in the same manner by Roger Ebert, director Lasse Hallstrom, and especially Mr. Beaufoy, is that the book is not a comedy at all. Mr. Ebert for example was bitterly disappointed that Kristin Scott Thomas’ person was the only comical figure in the movie, and he seemed to me really preferring the movie be kind of remake of “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. Yes, it is a satire, but I don’t think it was meant to be any more funny than satires like “Graduate” (the book) for example (or Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver's Travels”). Fuel for the book seems to me more passionate dislike for the likes of Alastair Campbell, rather than effort to make readers laugh. Also, Peter Maxwell in the book is a way less funny than Ms. Thomas in the movie, he is more disgusting than anything else.
Now from complaining to the really positive part of the book (which was mostly missed by the movie). The book is actually mostly about faith. Not exactly the religious kind, more faith is put in salmons (and only indirectly sheik mentions Allah), but it is one of more authentic expressions of faith I have met in a long time.