You can rest assured that Salmon Fishing in the Yemen isn’t completely about salmon fishing in the Yemen. In part, it’s a pretty okay romantic comedy starring Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and a criminally underused Kristin Scott Thomas, and it combines fuddy-duddy Britishness with something that resembles a tight-knit storyline. It also features fish.
Doctor Alfred Jones (McGregor) is a fishing expert employed by the UK Government’s fisheries department in grey, dour London. He has a grey, dour life with a grey, dour wife and a grey, dour lifestyle made up of day-in, day-out monotony - and he’s also completely whipped by his wife, who jets off to all sorts of places without even bothering to let him know in advance. The film opens with Jones receiving a ludicrous email from the representative of a wealthy Yemen sheikh, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt), asking about the feasability of introducing salmon fishing to the sheikh’s homeland and Jones, as the dour, grey type, has no interest in just how silly the idea is. Until he meets Ms. Chetwode-Talbot.
Whilst the two exchange doe eyes over lunches and make the acquaintance of the Sheikh himself (Amr Waked), there’s something of a B-story involving Kristin Scott Thomas’ government Press Officer. As it happens, the Middle East is generally a pretty hostile place if you’re a UK soldier and the Prime Minister’s office is looking for a story that doesn’t involve something dead-shaped - and hey, a loopy story about shipping ten thousand fish to the middle of the desert ought to do the trick. But her interaction with McGregor and Blunt is minimal, and yet her lines and temper make up some of the film’s funniest moments - that she is underused is something of a missed opportunity.
As a whole, the film works. McGregor and Blunt do a fine job of keeping the proceedings running along at a decent rate of knots, but there’s very little romance to this romantic comedy owing to the disappearance of Blunt’s soldier boyfriend in - of course - Afghanistan. That she holds out for him is cute and gives the film an air of realism, but it also creates an impression that the titular fish are really important - and as later scenes will allude, they’re really not. A quick CGI shot at the end of a miraculous fish doing an adorable little leap out of the water is about your lot when it comes to anything with gills, and the real focus is naturally on the back and forths of the dowdy office fisherman and his primp and proper love interest.
Whilst the gentle fawning over the lady on McGregor’s part is sweet, the film has moments where it chugs along rather than glides as a well-oiled machine, and the two parts - the love story and the public relations panic - don’t really gel together all that well. When they meet in the middle at the conclusion, the two barely interact either, and I was left scratching my head at why the B-story even existed, as it was of such little significance and influence that the film may as well have done away with the scenes as a whole and chopped half an hour off of the runtime.
It could have been better written, but there’s gentle humour to be found in between the cute hints of courting and the occasional shot of a gawp-mouthed fish. I also expect that the Yemen will find itself the subject of a tourist influx in the aftermath, becoming a prime hotspot for those wealthy enough to travel there, and that the jarring terrorist side-story is at odds with the film’s light-hearted tone. But none of that really matters when Ewan McGregor is making doe eyes at Emily Blunt and she makes the slightest of suggestions that she is making them back.