Tuesday, April 3, 2012

SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN - AN OK FISH STORY

I shared Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (SFITY) with several good Friends last night and that was the real highlight of the evening, aside from the absolutely stunning panoramas of the magnificent Scottish Highlands and the extraordinary Ardverikie House, the Invernesshire castle that overlooks Loch Laggan. Ardverikie House is aka ‘Glenbogle' as featured in the long running BBC drama, Monarch of the Glen. Another surprise was in store for us when Brother John and wife Barbara showed up independent of our quest for entertainment to this theatre many miles from our respective abodes… We were all on the same wave length. The intent of this post is not to dissect this movie and its plot, rather provide my first impressions. No, I haven’t read the book.

So, I had absolutely no expectations about this movie save that the title appeared metaphorical though turned out to be a literal, “right on”. While endearing and entertaining for na├»ve me it surprisingly turned out to be more of a satire than romantic comedy. Apparently in the UK it is considered biting political satire. In the US it might be a standard bill of fare especially when you consider bridges to nowhere and other highly imaginative pork barrel legislation. I am sure we have done something with the caddis fly.

The Sheikh’s seemingly unrealistic obsession for fly fishing in Yemen was actually an admirable ploy to turn his Middle Eastern desert into productive farmland. The British government’s support for the project, however absurd, turns out to be more of a PR attempt to help repair Arab-Anglo relations after their military forces accidentally bombed a mosque in Afghanistan. Needless to say the British Government wants to push this and other negative stories of the Middle East off the front page. This jab at the British Bureaucracy from Home Office to Environment (Fisheries) to Foreign Office needed some help with the romantic comedy partially rescuing the film.

SFITY starred one of my favorite actors Ewan McGregor (probably for no other reason than he is a Scot) who plays Dr. Alfred Jones, an uptight, obsessed, socially inept fisheries expert pressed into reluctant, involuntary servitude charged to literally bring off the impossible task of transplanting a cool weather northern hemisphere life form (Atlantic Salmon) to the heat of the high Yemeni desert. Ewan did not completely excel in this effort either in the movie or as an actor. Fred/Ewan was brooding and melancholy (after all he is Scottish) much of the time though I kept hoping that he would draw his light saber and slay the terrorists trying to derail his efforts. As it was, with one deft fly fishing casting technique he did foil an assassination attempt of the goodly and wise Yemeni Sheikh Muhammed who was conscientiously trying to enlighten and empower his people. For some fly fishing enthusiasts in the theater, this (while a stretch) may have been the highlight of the film. Having said that some of the fly fishing techniques and casts looked and felt awkward.

While it was good to hear a Scottish Burr I noted that Ewan (from Crieff) didn’t really use his own accent, rather spoke with what he proclaims was an Edinburgh Morningside accent [vs. a Glasgow Kelvinside or Glaswegian Patter (west central Scots) accent] – in order to capture what is perceived by some (?) as an “uptight and pretentious” demeanor. Aside from McGregor’s prodigious acting abilities, I suspect that for 99.9% of the non-Scottish viewing public (including this writer), it really didn’t matter. Know that there are so many different Scots accents; Ewan should have just used his own Scots Burr with an element of achievement and erudition maybe from the comfort of a librarian or museum curator’s cocoon. We concede that a Glasgow Patter would not have been appropriate…

I was nonplussed and almost upset at Ewan’s film wife Mary (Rachael Stirling), a dispassionate ("That should do you for a while.") workaholic who is always on the road who let us know from the start that the marriage was not going to work. I immediately took offense at Mary who among her outside activities appears to play the sackbut (primitive trombone) in a medieval music ensemble. The actress fails to even attempt to blow into the instrument or use proper lip placement on the mouthpiece when she is supposedly playing. OK, maybe this is minor, but I think it bad form and at least, bad acting.

Jones’ ultimate love interest is the staggeringly beautiful Emily Blunt (Ms. Harriet Chetwode-Talbot), the Sheikh's Sassenach business consultant and representative who along with the vulgar and ultra-efficient, opportunistic press secretary to the Prime Minister, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), drives most of the movie. Emily Blunt did a good job and was Jones’ counter balance for much of the movie though no Tracy-Hepburn they.

For me the sleeper in SFITY was the visionary Sheikh Muhammed (played so well by the accomplished Egyptian actor Amr Waked) who while trying to unite the Yemeni people was the savior of the film. He may have been the smartest, most intuitive character on the screen and gave us all a lesson in faith and introspection, “For fishermen, the only virtues are patience, tolerance and humility.” He perseveres and it is ultimately his faith, persistence and money coupled with Jones’ science that allows the victory – for the good guys.

Despite these few negatives the movie was good, a pleasant, endearing and entertaining respite that I would pay to see again. Mind you it probably won’t win a Golden Globe or Academy Award but it was very palatable and made you think. It certainly helps if you have a connection to Scotland. In one of the movie’s literal turning points Ewan McGregor as Dr. Jones has his epiphany, turns around and walks “upstream” against the crowd of people just like his salmon did on that Yemeni river.

This is a major life lesson to be learned and embraced. I’m going to read the book. You just gotta believe.

Aye,

Ned Buxton

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