Adapted from the novel of the same name by Paul Torday, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the kind of quirky reserved British romantic comedy that won’t knock your socks off, but, when it’s not getting in its own way, will deliver an enjoyable time at the movies.
Ewan McGregor stars as Dr. Alfred Jones, a scientist for the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence who is pressured by his boss (Conleth Hill), the British Prime Minister’s Press Secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas), and the representative (Emily Blunt) of a Yemeni sheikh (Amr Waked) into helping the sheikh in his rather absurd dream to introduce salmon fishing to the deserts of Yemen.
Despite his incredulity at a project he believes impossible, Alfred finds himself in a situation where money is no object and the British Government, hungry for a good PR story, are willing to do anything to see the project succeed. And the longer he spends on the project the more Alfred becomes won over by the sheikh’s dream and Harriet (Blunt).
The main story of the film works quite well by first presenting the how insane of a proposition Alfred finds himself in the middle of. From here the script does a fairly good job of explaining to Aflred, and to the audience, why such a ridiculous idea has a real chance of success.
Where the film runs into trouble is with the backup stories that give us more information about each character. Although these give us a little more information about Alfred and Harriet’s life apart from the project neither really pay off, especially given how much screentime is devoted to each of them. The comedic inside look into Alfred’s job works pretty well, but his passionless marriage is given far too much screentime.
Blunt to is given her own blossoming romance with a soldier (Tom Mison) who goes missing in the Middle East just as the salmon project is getting underway. As a contraption to get Alfred and Harriet together the story works well enough, but in typical romcom fashion we’re given a completely unnecessary callback to the arc that comes close to derailing the momentum of the film in its final act.
When the film stays with its lighthearted feel good story Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is entertaining (in no small part to a pair of charming leads). As Alfred loses himself in a project he couldn’t have taken seriously weeks earlier we’re swept along with him on his wistful journey. As to his growing feelings for Harriet, a romance with a beautiful younger woman who shares his dream certainly isn’t more ridiculous than introducing salmon into the desert, is it?
Given its somewhat clunky final act, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen may not be the kind of film you’ll go back to for multiple viewings, but for a couple hours it may be just the kind of hopeful quirky romp that will leave you with a smile on your face.