A wealthy sheikh (Amr Waked) is determined to introduce salmon fishing to the Yemen and employs sceptical scientist Dr. Fred Jones (McGregor) from the Department Of Fisheries And Agriculture. The sheikh’s representative, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt), joins him on the project. Both logistical and romantic complications arise.
When Slumdog Millionaire writer Simon Beaufoy adapts a bestseller starring Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt, you might expect a simple British crowdpleaser. But Salmon Fishing In The Yemen is bit more complicated than that. Mixing political satire with broad humour, unlikely romance and even an assassination plot, it casts its net wide and gets a mixed, if lively, haul. McGregor is amiable as obsessive fisheries expert Fred, fussing around in a range of grey cardigans like a much older man (which, in Paul Torday’s novel, he is). Fred is a fish out of water around charismatic, glamorous young Harriet (a sparkling Blunt), and plenty of light comedy comes from her contrasting breezy professionalism. But while their blossoming romance looks simple in the film’s trailer, it’s less easy to root for when you discover Fred’s married to Mary (Rachael Stirling) and that Harriet’s yearning for a handsome young soldier, Robert (Tom Mison). Oh, and that they have absolutely nothing in common.
Still, the comic opportunities of the ambitious mission are many. Fred invents what he thinks are impossible cost estimates in order to wriggle out of the project, only for the sheikh (Amr Waked) to snap his fingers and make it happen. Fred rightly anticipates an outcry at the idea of flying British salmon over to the Yemen — but Prime Minister’s spokesperson Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) has no such qualms, keen to do anything to distract from bad-news stories about the Middle East.
Scott Thomas is doubtless the biggest catch as a ruthless, fast-talking spin doctor who’s as outspoken with the PM and her staff as she is with her own kids. This draws inevitable — and welcome — comparisons with In The Loop every time she strides on screen, barking orders according to ill-informed whims. In the book, her character’s a man, but outside of Peter Capaldi, it’s hard to imagine a better fit for this entertaining role.
But as it moves from London to Scotland to Yemen, the comedy-drama shifts tone too often: both murder plot and marital dramas distract from the light mood as well as the central story. Still, moments of tenderness and merriment help make this an enjoyable watch — if not a must-see.
As awkward as McGregor’s geeky hero and almost as confused as the titular plan, Salmon Fishing is still very likable if you’re prepared to take the bait. And it might even be Scott Thomas’ funniest turn since Four Weddings And A Funeral.