Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, anyone who happens to be passing, I have decided to quiz myself about this week’s film, for no other reason than the idea occurred to me, and I fancied it, so here goes:
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, any good?
OK, if this film teaches us anything, it teaches us how to take a perfectly fine book — Paul Torday’s novel of the same name — and transform it into a mushy, corny, ghastly mess of the most trying kind.
How would you describe the viewing experience?
Like swimming upstream yourself, but through treacle, and with someone heavy strapped to your back.
Someone like Eric Pickles, say.
I wouldn’t like Eric Pickles strapped to my back, I don’t think.
I know someone who did once have Eric Pickles strapped to her back, and as she now says, ‘Never again, and never mind swimming upstream through treacle. I couldn’t even get round Asda.’
Hard work, then?
Bloody hard work, this film.
An important question — well done, you! I think it’s because it just doesn’t know what it is.
But it has good credentials, right?
Indeed. The director is Lasse Hallström (Chocolat). The screenwriter is Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire). But at some point one or other or both unwisely decided to excise almost all the political satire from the book, and, as the book is predominantly a political satire, and an absurdist one, this left them with what exactly? A romance? A comedy? A New Age fable about faith and togetherness? It never knows, which means?
It’s not much of anything?
Hallelujah! You have learnt something over the years!
Can we have the synopsis now, as is the form?
Fair enough. Dr Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) is a British fisheries expert who is approached by Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), a consultant to a vastly wealthy sheikh (Amr Waked), who wishes to bring the sport of fly fishing to the desert; a plan the uptight Dr Jones initially describes as ‘doolally’ and ‘unfeasible’.
Are they destined to fall in love?
You have to ask? You think she’ll turn out to be a man-hating psycho who axes him to death in his sleep?
Obviously, they don’t take to each other at first, being opposites. She is chic and worldly and lives in a cool, open-plan apartment while he is dull and tweedy and lives in a boring house in what I recognise to be Hampstead Garden Suburb, as if Hampstead Garden Suburb were a symbol of all things dull and boring and conventional.
I was actually brought up in the actual Hampstead Garden Suburb and I am neither boring nor dull. Heck, once I’ve broken open the box set of, say, The Good Life, there is no stopping me until I’ve watched every episode!
Can we get back to the film?
I once had a drink when it wasn’t the weekend!
OK. Dr Jones is forced into complying by the British government, and particularly the PM’s ruthlessly vicious press officer (Kristin Scott Thomas), who wants a positive story about Anglo-Middle East relations to counter some war disaster in Afghanistan.
We like Kristin Scott Thomas, don’t we?
We do, and it’s good to see her step out of those French movies in which there’s some sexual tension, nothing much else happens, then everyone goes home, but here she plays it as if she were Peter Capaldi in The Thick of It, which would be all right, if only she weren’t so tonally at odds with the rest of the cast, who all play it straight. Nothing coheres, so you can’t believe in any of the characters, or their journeys.
The rest of the cast?
They coast along comfortably enough, but, my heavens, the script is woeful. The sheikh, who is presented as some kind of spiritual mystic, is given the worst groaners, as in: ‘I have too many wives not to know when one is unhappy.’ How many wives do you have to have before you know one is unhappy? Seventeen, or 23? We should have been told.
And no politics at all?
Well, occasionally terrorists try to blow up the sheikh, but it doesn’t seem to bother him — he just walks away, and never appears to employ bodyguards or anything — so it obviously shouldn’t bother us greatly either.
So you wouldn’t recommend this film?
I would not. And if you are tempted remember this: do I really want to swim upstream with Eric Pickles on my back? Can I just say, before you go, that I love your film reviews. It’s the only reason I buy The Spectator.