Book v Movie: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I went to see the film Salmon Fishing in the Yemen this afternoon based on the brilliant 2006 book by Paul Torday.

I read the book last year and loved it, (review here), so I was crossing my fingers that the film would also be good.

The film stars Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott-Thomas, with the rather gorgeous Egyptian actor Amr Waked as the Shiekh.  It was directed by Lasse Hallström from a script adapted by Slumdog Oscar-winner Simon Beaufoy.

A great cast and crew, but I had read that the film wasn’t as good as the book, so I kept my fingers crossed…  I’m not going to dwell on the plot.  For the first three-quarters of the film, it stayed faithful to the book, and I even recognised some of the dialogue.

The one major change was that the PM’s spin doctor changed sex for the film – Peter became Patricia Maxwell and gave Scott-Thomas the chance to play a prize-bitch.

Being a very British film, the makers undoubtedly wanted to have a character that wasn’t a remake of the foul Malcolm Tucker from the BBC’s brilliant political satire In the thick of it.  This worked in that KS-T was perfectly cast, but she didn’t really get enough to get her teeth into.  That was the fault of the screenplay which often emulated the format of the novel also, which is largely written as e-mails, letters, memos, reportage, and then later diary entries. So KS-T was always on the phone, or typing at her laptop, and was reacting against the ether rather than real people most of the time, which rather wasted her.

Which brings me to Ewan McGregor.  He’s so youthful and normally full of joie de vivre, that it was hard to see him as a hen-pecked boffin type.  However, he is now forty-one, and nearing the age I envisaged for Fred; dressed down in tweedy jackets and pullovers he actually fitted the rôle well.  Then, when he did his voiceovers for the memos and e-mails, his sardonic delivery and his character’s inability to tell a joke won me over, and I loved him as Dr Jones.  He handled the light comedy and Fred’s emotional confusion equally well.

I sat back and was enjoying the film: having a good chuckle, being amazed by Emily Blunt’s beauty, admiring the Scottish and Yemeni scenery, laughing at Fred and his wife Mary miming playing musical instruments in a baroque quartet, and all along rooting for Fred of course.  Then we reached the last reels, and a departure from the book…

Yes, this is a rom-com. It can’t get too dark or satiric, especially in the last reels. Rom-coms have a formula, and you can guess where I’m going – I won’t spell it out for you.  The formula successfully diluted the book’s central message of having faith and following your dream, but acknowledging that dreams can be shattered.

It was intermittently funny and romantic and had charming leads in McGregor and Blunt (plus the gorgeous Sheikh).  It lacked bite though, and being partly a BBC film, did feel slightly TV-movie-ish at times.

If I hadn’t read the novel, I’d have thoroughly enjoyed the film. Then I’d have been inspired to get the book.

It wasn’t a bad film at all, but it was a movie first, book later one.

* * * * *

To explore on Amazon UK (affiliate link), do click below:
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday
The Thick Of It – Complete Box Set [DVD]


19 thoughts on “Book v Movie: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

  1. I have this one at home and have been avoiding the film until I get around to reading it, but now I wonder, having read your comments, whether I should do it the other way around. I have enjoyed many books having been inspired to find the book after the film. Hmmm…

    • A colleague who hasn’t read the book thought the film was fabulous. The Guardian review had a witty take – “The comedy’s farmed, not wild.” I have to agree, but the film was fun. The book was way better though, funnier and darker. The decision is yours!

  2. Good. I haven’t read the book (and I probably won’t) but rom-coms are my top guilty pleasure. I want them to follow the formula and give me that nice, safe feeling that all will be well. At least in the film.

  3. Kinga, I do like a good rom-com too, and this was a good one for grown-ups. Hope you enjoy it if you get to see it.

  4. I had mixed feelings about the book when I read it, but with time it has grown on me. I wasn’t convinced that it would make a good film, but you’ve convinced me that it might be worth watching (on DVD at least!)

    • I was worried too about the film Jackie, but it was a great rom-com. Ticked all the boxes on that score, but not quite up to the book for me.

    • … which gives me an idea for a discussion post – as if you see Ewan first, you’ll always see Fred as Ewan if you read the book …

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  6. I’m sorry to say that I read this a couple of years ago as part of a Book Club at work and I didn’t really enjoy it! However everyone else did and as my staff commented at the time, the fact I didn’t find it funny only proved the boos doesn’t have a sense of humour! However I might still watch the film partly because I like Kristin Scott-Thomas and partly because in the reviews I’ve read they say the scenery is beautiful and I’m always partial to nostalgic views of home (that’s Scotland rather than Yemen!)

  7. I’ve not read the book, but I do want to see the film at some stage because some of it was filmed in the building I used to work in. There was much excitement at the time (about two years ago now) when I realised Ewan McGregor was working on the next floor up from me, and if I peered through my window, across the atrium, and looked upwards I could spot him acting in the boardroom that had been rented out to the film production company!

  8. I really enjoyed the book, I recall that it was recommended to me and I loved it. I hope to see the film this week. Thanks for the interesting comparison.

  9. I loved the book. I’ve read it twice and will no doubt read it again sometime. I loved the movie too, and actually quite liked the changes. As you say, the alterations were appropriate for the kind of film they wanted to make i.e. a “rom-com”. That is not to say I would have preferred the same outcome in the book. It’s good to have both.

    I think you are right that they switched the gender of the role played by Scott Thomas in order to avoid Malcolm Tucker comparisons. The producers may also have been worried that there were too few strong female characters for a “rom-com”. Torday is stronger writing about lost middle-aged men than he is about women.

    Speaking of the female characters, whilst Mrs Jones did not come across as particularly loveable in the film, I still felt she was not quite as frightful on screen as on page. Her high-flying role as an investment banker is made more of in the book. Perhaps post-crash, the idea of a mean-spirited financier is regarded as a bit of a cliché?

    • Mrs Jones was rather peripheral in the film wasn’t she? I’m glad they kept her bed scene ‘That should do you for a bit.’ 😉 I must read some more of Torday’s books – I have several in the pile.

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