Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is so far the most pleasant movie this year. The crowd I saw it with at the Fine Arts applauded in delight when it was over. It’s a low-budget charmer without much publicity money so it won’t be around very long… see it right away.
Sheik Muhammed (Egyptian actor Amr Waked) is a devoutly religious yet visionary prince from Yemen. During his many years of Western education, he acquired several castles in Scotland and England as well as a passion for salmon fishing. He wants to bring salmon to his country, which is mostly desert, but with the huge dam he built and the cold-water aquifers in the mountainous region, he envisions a deep flowing river that will make many miles of his country green, as well as attract salmon fishing aficionados worldwide. Unlike most farsighted men on the planet, the sheik has the money—millions and millions—that can turn such a dream into a reality. Convincing other people isn’t so easy.
Some of his countrymen think his idea is going against the natural order of things and is an affront to God. But most people think he’s just nuts. Assigned to help him is Harriet (a marvelous Emily Blunt), a determined young associate in the London-based company that handles the sheik’s interests. She finds Dr. Alfred Jones (a surprisingly appealing Ewan McGregor), a stuffy bureaucrat who works at a desk in the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence in London and solicits his help. Dr. Jones is a scientist who gets thrilled at close-up photos of bugs, and is satisfied with his dull job and its secure pension. He’s in a loveless, childless marriage but doesn’t think about it much.
When he gets the call from Harriet about the sheik’s dream in Yemen he rejects the idea as totally impossible… salmon need cold water, lots of it, and how could anyone possibly get ten thousand pounds of live salmon from the rivers of Scotland to Yemen, etc. etc. In his attempts to burst the idea, he comes up with fantastical theories about what impossible things would have to be done to accomplish the dream. Everyone thinks he’s brilliant. He thinks they’re all lunatics.
But no one has factored modern-day politics into the scenario. Yet. The British Prime Minster is desperate to find a story that will highlight good relations between the UK and the Middle East. Tasked with this hopeless assignment is his press secretary, the supremely efficient, perfectly coifed Patricia Maxwell (played with gleeful abandon by Kristin Scott Thomas). She gets wind of the salmon fishing in Yemen idea and no human on earth can stop her from bringing that perfect story about. Dr. Smith has a choice – he’ll either be fired immediately from his cushy government job–or bring salmon to the desert. The result is the funniest political satire you’ve seen in ages.
Once set in motion, normal people have no resistance to the shenanigans demanded by British political spin.
There are a string of reality-based challenges, of course, in this instance, including rebellious salmon fishermen in Scotland and some nasty terrorists. In addition, there’s a sweet budding romance between the boring fisheries expert and the sheik’s consultant, who happens to be attached to a soldier missing in Afghanistan. The endless bank account of the sheik and his faith in his project keep things going—even four engineers from China who worked on the enormous Gorges Dam project come in to help.
With his Yoda-like words of Mideast wisdom, sheik Muhammed inspires the non-believing Westerners. (And his good looks and gorgeous flowing robes may turn him into the next movie heart throb.) Most symbolic to everyone is the magnificent salmon–the beautiful, wonderful fish that swims upstream every year, no matter what obstacles nature or man may put in its way. Faith, whether in God or fish, may eventually save the day.
Director Lasse Hallstrom (A Boy and His Dog) and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) have combined their talents to turn British novelist Paul Torday’s late-life debut novel into a quiet little movie full of heart and good cheer. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the most unique movie onscreen today and certainly the most delightful.
Perhaps because it was made in the Mideast (shot in Morocco) and is meant to attract Muslim viewers, the romance between Harriet and Dr. Jones, while long and lovely in anticipation, and always chaste, doesn’t have the sexy final kiss we Americans have come to expect in our screen romances. A noticeable but minor flaw, for some viewers, in an otherwise perfect film. Along with everyone else in the audience, I cheered when the movie was over. Put this film on your must-see right away list.