To Faith and Fish… and Science. The Critic Reviews Salmon Fishing In The Yemen


This film, based on a book of the same name, tells the story of Dr Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor) , a Scotsman with a keen and knowledgeable mind for fishing. He meets Harriet (Emily Blunt) who is working for Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked), a man with a huge amount of money and even more vision. Their plan is to introduce salmon fishing to Yemen in order to boost the agricultural economy and bring the people in Yemen together through the peace and tranquility of fishing. Although doubtful as a “facts and figures man”, Fred joins them and begins his journey into learning about faith.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a ridiculous idea, anyone watching the trailer knows it, and that is what makes this film so intriguing. You could just about take any animal native to Scotland (probably including the Scots), and they would probably not survive in what is basically a desert. You don’t need a degree in fishing and agriculture to understand the utter stupidity of the idea. And yet, it pulls you in, as the story goes on it convinces you that things like that might be possible. It just might be possible to do something completely ridiculous. It might be exactly the right thing to do.

The portrayals of the UK political staff is possibly one of the greatest things about this film. The aim was not to boost the UK’s popularity by showing some amazing form of government (Love Actually), a tradition Empire-rooted “British way” of doing things. Instead, the film was self-aware and able to laugh at itself, and in so doing pointed out some truisms. The instant messenger between PM and Press Secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas) were awesome, highlighting the little things politicians will do in order to get votes:

200 million fishermen you say?

Prime Minister, can you fish? Potentially. No, really, can you fish? No. Votes up for grabs. Yes I can fish.

Oh yes the Prime Minister has been a keen fisherman all his life!

A nice part of the film as a whole was the lack of over the top romance. There was no mushy moments, running through airports, or crashing weddings. Of course, love was a part of the film, but not so much that it’s overly cringe-worthy. One hard part of the film to watch was the breakdown of a marriage. Yes the wife was a little cruel, a little cold, and VERY distant, but it didn’t seem to really add anything to the film. It was hard to see a woman begging her husband to come back, only for him to ignore her and chase another younger woman. The soldier romance was again somewhat unnecessary, but added some depth to the character of Harriet. Her struggle with his MIA, her grief at his ‘death’ was touching, and her devotion to a 2 week fling somewhat admirable. Yet, the portrayal of relationships in general was of their disposability. The sad message: if you find someone better, dump the other one.

Back to the fish, as I have said already, the idea is inspiring and intriguing in equal measure. Just as we see Fred gradually become attached to the idea, the audience becomes captivated by the landscapes of Yemen, the river being formed, and the fish swimming beneath the surface. Another really lovely part is that the simplicity reflected the realness of the way the story was told. Just as there were no grand romantic gestures, the ambition to bring Salmon fishing to the Yemen was not a happily ever after story either. The cultural shifts behind the engineers, workers, and people living in the Yemen is seen briefly through the terrorism that befalls the project. However, this isn’t a film of good guys versus the bad. The terrorists are given some kind of sympathy and understanding. When they destroy, the plan becomes to move slower, to allow them to take a part in the project, to give it to them, rather than doing it despite them. This feeling was refreshing and soothing, and when the phrases “these Arabs” came out of the soldiers mouth (however well-meant) it made me cringe at the generalisation. Of course that was the point and I think this film has been most successful in suggesting tolerance and peace in difficult times.

When faith is mentioned it is brief but it packs a punch. Despite Fred and Harriet not knowing anyone still going to church they meet people who are truly devout, and respect them for it. The comparison between faith and fishing made me wary but again was sweet and simple enough to ease the way. Just as a fisherman spends hours fishing for little or no reward, so a faithful man prays. It is not necessarily science that encourages each, it is the faith in what they are doing. By the end Fred has taken his own leap of faith, trusting that somehow things will be OK, and he is rewarded for his faith.. even if in unexpected ways.

This film surprised me in strange ways. It is nothing exciting but it wasn’t meant to be. It’s simply, soothingly told tale feels like a warm summer rain – surprising but peaceful once embraced. It isn’t something that challenged me much, nor is it a stunning beauty in the same way as The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel, but it releases a kind of spirit that calmed me. As someone with faith it didn’t necessarily change anything in me or convince me of anything, but I don’t believe that was the point. What it did suggest is that hope, no matter how it is placed, is often a richly rewarding thing. I have struggled to write this review, and rate it, not because I didn’t enjoy it but because it didn’t fit the normal boxes I manage to fit films into. That may be a good thing as it has stretched my mind enough to accept it as it stands.

Rating: 4/5

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