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Ubiquitous at film festivals since last fall, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is finally being released into the wild. Lasse Hallström ‘s latest crowd pleaser features Ewan McGregor and Kristin Scott-Thomas playing to their strengths.

Hooked and Netted

Harriet and Alfred are in a fishy relationship
Harriet and Alfred are in a fishy relationship

Dr. Alfred Jones (McGregor), a fisheries biologist, is asked to offer his opinion and advice on how to introduce salmon into Yemen so that a rich sheik — a king, in fact — can fish there like he does on his Scottish estate. Obviously it can’t be done, says the pragmatic, humorless bureaucrat. Hallström and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy illustrate just how pragmatic and humorless he is in a small sex scene, with his wife, played for laughs. McGregor relaxes into his Scottish accent and puts on his most proper manner, for example, calling Harriet, “Miss Chetwode-Talbot.” Ah, but we haven’t met her yet...

Hyperefficient, results-oriented Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott-Thomas) works for the British government. She desperately wants to accommodate the sheik in order to improve Anglo-Arab relations. She’s used to deftly, sometimes abrasively, managing people like Dr. Jones — educated elites who don’t have to deal with the real world. When “no” becomes “no, because it would be too expensive,” she knows she has him hooked.

Dr. Jones could still walk away with his professional pride... if not for Miss Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt). She’s in the employ of the sheik, and she’s done some initial investigations into how salmon might be introduced. Dr. Jones realizes she’s on the right track. If he leaves the project, it will happen without him, and by people with less expertise. The project really needs someone like him. He is hooked and netted.

Into the Whirlpool

The script throws several themes into the whirlpool. Some are tired, like the idea that King and commoner are the same in the eyes of nature. Others have more traction, like the notion that the world becomes a bigger place when you get past “no,” even if it’s to “no, because....”

Perhaps the most crowd-pleasing idea is that you’re never too old to start over, to rekindle your passion, or to broaden your horizons. (Just try not to think about poor Mrs.Jones, should the flirting between Alfred and Miss Chetwode-Talbot turn into something.)

A few contrived scenes introduce an element of conflict to get the stuck plot over a hump. Terrorists really have no place in this movie. But Hallstrom doesn’t seem to care that they are implausible. He accepts them as a necessary evil, keeps their screen time to just a few seconds, and gets on with it.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen doesn’t set out to be art. It’s fairly formulaic and predictable. But it does have its charm.