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* Many a spoiler in this belated review of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen *
I do not know the novel from which this was taken, and can insufficiently conceive that seeing how it differs from the film would merit the time to find out (quite apart from anything else that I would derive from the experience). In any case, my shameless interest was to see Kristin Scott Thomas, and anything else was going to be a bonus.
The typical end-of-film disclaimer always talks of denying resemblances to people living or dead, but we all surely recall the folly of being found out recording having contrived to bury a bad news story, and the fact that Kristin, as the PM's Press Secretary, was called Maxwell might not have been without another irony.
In the screening that I have just been at, KST got some very good laughs, in character, for how she sought to impose (what is usual to call) control* on the situations that she faced, including a rebellious middle son - and, even by then, we weren't quite acclimatized to hearing this actress casually saying 'fucking' as one element of throwing her weight about, which made it naughtily delicious.
As to whether finding a positive story about The Middle East to offset the bad press about the British forces' campaign in Afghanistan made any sense on which to hang this story, not least in terms of the different timescale of day-to-day business of press releases and conferences, I rather doubt anyone in the audience would have been persuaded. However, that was unnecessary, when we were just required to embrace Mrs Maxwell's breezy indifference to reality or other obstacles, few greater than the implausibility embodied in the title itself: she just wanted kudos for the PM and his office, and latched onto any figure mentioned, such as the number of anglers, that suggested that there were votes hanging on what she did.
It could be a romantic comedy, set against the infighting and machination of politics, but it does not really sit easily as one, and, to judge from a comment that I heard to the effect that 'they have turned it into a slushy romance', nor did it with someone whose reading of the book had led to different expectations. It is more in the nature of the awkward and rather unlikely romance, which brings me onto the pretty-womanization of Ewan McGregor as Dr Jones. No, he is not an LA hooker, but, in an unlikely way, he has to break through his exterior and appeal to his equivalent of Richard Gere (except that Gere thinks Roberts stunning more or less straightaway, and we are the ones who don't understand his fascination).
All in all, I enjoyed the patchy political intrigue (as a chance for KST to show the breadth of her talents), the pottily likeable sheikh (Amr Waked) who - surprise, surprise - has more to teach Dr Jones than he imagines and, of course, has to owe Dr Jones his life (in the face of a singularly inept attempt at assassination by someone commissioned in Yemen to kill him, who fetches up in Scotland with no real evidence of a plan). That apart, it is just the will she, won't she with Emily Blunt, and people doing the decent thing as good Britons.
* For some, contol freak is a sort of shorthand, but the word 'control', to me, belongs in the day of training dogs the Barbara Woodhouse way. (The phrase is, itself, more likely to have originated with a freak who thinks that it is fit employment to seek to control how we perceive and think about his or her clients, which, when the PM and his government is the client, is where KST in this film comes in.) And the word has no positive companion, such as - to make one up - control champion, just this dismal word in the phrase He's so controlling: engage tongue, switch off mind!