Sunday, 11 January 2015

Mini film review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011) **** is based on the highly acclaimed novel by Oxford- educated Paul Torday, who started writing at 59, after a working life, in business. He wrote a number of novels against time, fighting cancer.  He sadly died, last year. The plot and activities of the main characters seem ‘real’because Paul Torday was a man with wide experience of the modern world. He loved fishing and the Middle East. He had worked in oil and gas and had many dealings with Whitehall bureaucracy and political PR. An entertaining and half-amusing film for anyone working in Whitehall, fisheries, FCO, overseas development or the Middle East.

In fact, it is a comic send-up of political spin. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s approach is rather worrying. A Sheik’s (madcap) idea of creating a salmon fishing project in a desert in Yemen is supported by FCO desk officers (possible to counter negative Middle Eastern news stories) before it is taken up by a Number 10 who are desperate for a 'positive' Middle Eastern story. The FCO desk is clearly unaware of the tribal tensions, in the area - and differing views within the Moslem religion. There is a scene where the Sheikh, who is building a hydroelectric dam for the benefit, in his view, of neighbouring tribes, finds they do not agree it is theologically 'right’. He ignores their objections, while talking a lot about faith in God himself. The ignorance may be true to life.

These versions of 'FCO' and 'Number 10' are willing to second (or sacrifice) the country’s finest salmon expert in 'DEFRA' (touchingly played by Ewan Mcgregor). A love story takes over our focus, involving a modern young woman working for the Sheikh (Emily Blunt). Kristin Scott Thomas ably plays the domineering, foul-mouthed Number 10 Press Officer whose calculating, left-brained aim in life is to get the Prime Minister on the front page of every broadsheet, each day, in a positive light. She is over-reaching herself in telling the Prime Minister where to post his ministers, but the PM is clearly overwhelmed by his job and therefore 'putty in her hands' -  in our media-information age.

The novel was scripted by an Oscar winning scriptwriter - and it shows. Using 1930s cliches, plus mobile phones, he turns adultery into something we can ‘sympathise with’, from the heart. That tendency started with ‘Brief Encounter’. One could argue that this story is actively supporting family break-down and men 'doing something' about their mid-life crisis. In that way, the story is totally in tune with modern views i.e. ‘Do what makes you happy, at that moment’. To balance that, the end decisions are romantically-based and probably self-destructive. I can see them ‘hitting the bottle’ - and divorcing (having nothing in common) later on.

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