Salmon Fishing in Yemen
By Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
Source: Catholic News Service
Dr. Alfred Jones “Fred” (Ewan McGregor) is a staid civil
servant in London, an expert in the fisheries division of the government. He
leads a quiet life with his mostly absent professional wife Mary (Rachael
Sterling). One day the department
receives a letter from Harriet (Emily Blunt) inviting them to allow Fred to
consult on a fishing project for Sheik Mohammad (Amr Waked).
The wealthy sheik has learned to love salmon fishing in
Scotland where he has one of his many estates. He wants to create the same
peaceful experience for his people in Yemen.
Fred scoffs at the idea of importing salmon to the Yemen due
to climate and terrain. He resists but Patricia (Kristen Scott Thomas), the
prime minister’s PR person, thinks it is a brilliant idea to demonstrate the
government’s efforts to partner with a Middle Eastern country for a peace
effort. Fred is basically forced to take on the task when his boss hints that
his job may be terminated.
Harriett is very professional; she works for the firm that
manages the sheik’s property and affairs. She and Fred go to Scotland to visit
the sheik. Although Fred is still incredulous about the idea of salmon fishing
in Yemen, a country without a single permanent river, he is drawn to the sheik’s
vision of faith and possibility.
When Fred discovers that the sheik has already created a dam
that would release enough water to create a river for the salmon, he is
intrigued and agrees to consult on the project.
“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is a beautiful, gentle story of possibility
and faith based on the 2006 award-winning comic novel of the same title by Paul
Torday. Director Lasse Hallstrom has created
a beautiful film with nuanced performances by Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt.
Kristen Scott Thomas’ Patricia is crafty and annoying but her character works.
“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is also a romantic comedy with surprising
depth and spirituality and it avoids all the clichés that characterize
over-the-top comedies of recent years. While there are several differences
between the book and the novel I liked both, especially the way the film ends
as contrasted with the book’s ending.
I had the opportunity to interview Ewan McGregor by phone a few weeks ago
and he said that Fred was English in the book but he made the character
“Scottish because I recognized the character from people I knew growing up in
Scotland – an emotional and sexually awkward man.” He also said that he had to
learn fly-fishing and had to practice and practice. He admitted that he “has no
desire to catch a fish” but likes the “meditative aspect and the way focusing
helps you clear your mind.”
McGregor described Sheik Mohammad’s spirituality as “running off him”.
“He makes you think that salmon fishing in Yemen just might work.” He also
described actor Amr Waked as “a beautiful man to look at with a beautiful soul”
who works for change and peace in his home country of Egypt.
I asked McGregor if he would like to comment on the film for the faith
community. That idea stumped him and then he said something that is really good
to think about when looking at films. He said that ”if a film is good the
director will leave space for the audience to make its own meaning and not
impose his or her own point of view.”
The film offers a lot to
consider and contemplate about faith and life. At one point in the film Fred
and Harriett pass by several of the Sheik’s servants and staff in prayer and I
think it is Fred who remarks, “When was the last time you saw so many people
pray?” The Sheik is a kind of mystical
character and the story has a fairy tale quality about it that made it one of
the gentlest films about faith and transformation I have
seen in a long time.
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