I loved Paul Torday’s novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. It was a book that was immediately witty, clever, satirical but also gentle, with finely drawn characters whose pursuit of love and the meaning of life was beguiling. I laughed out loud in places and I cried too. It is a book that remains on my top ten recommended reads
The story is a wild one involving salmon fishing, a multimillionaire sheik with mystical tendencies and Scottish castles, waddis in the Yemen and a thinly disguised Blair like government with its dedication to spin. Central to the story is the colourless Alfred Jones, a professor of things fishy who works for the Department of Fisheries, Harriet Chetwode Talbot who works for the investment company representing the Sheik and the PM’s Press Secretary, who one would certainly puts me in mind of one Mr Alastair Campbell (or rather how I would imagine said Mr Campbell was during his incarnation in that role). But running just underneath the improbably and comedic storyline are stories of love – love lost, unrequited love, and the possibility of love. The novel was a stunning debut by Paul Torday who was in his late 50s when it was published.
So I was very excited to see that it had been made into film but nervous also that the big screen would destroy some of the gentleness of the book. I need not have worried. Lasse Halstrom’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is as good as a movie based on a book gets. This is due in no small part to Ewan McGregor’s brilliantly sympathetic and subtle portrayal of the main character of Alfred Jones, Professor of all things fishing. It is a beautiful performance which doubtless makes this movie. But McGregor is also aided by strong performances by Amr Waked who plays Sheik with a mytical and philosophical bent and the wonderful Kristin Scott Thomas who plays the PM’s ball breaking Press Secretary, Patricia Maxwell with wild abandon. Emily Blunts performance as Harriet Chetwode Talbot doesn’t let down either.
In the end, much like the book, this is a feelgood movie. In these dark days of rescession it is wonderful to be reminded of the fact that a ridiculous idea like that of the Sheik’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, almost works. As he says in the film, “it’s all about faith.” And he is right, indeed it is.