salmon-fishing-cast-hallstrom

Early last year, Slumdog Millionaire screenwriter Simon Beaufoy wrote an adaptation of Paul Torday‘s novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. The script was well-received, making the 2009 Brit List of unproduced screenplays.

Some time after that, Bill Condon came aboard the project to direct. But his new responsibilities on Breaking Dawn preclude making the picture. So he’s been replaced by Lasse Hallström. A bit more exciting than that is the cast: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott Thomas.

THR says the picture is being sold to buyers at Cannes this month. Curiously, the trade describes the film as a ‘rom-com,’ which isn’t really in keeping with what I’d understood about the novel. Torday’s book is built from memos, emails, letters and interviews that butt up against one another and are layered to provide the narrative.

The plot:

Dr. Alfred Jones feels at odds with his orderly life as a London fisheries scientist and husband to the career-driven Mary, with whom he shares a coldly dispassionate relationship. Just as Mary departs for a protracted assignment in Geneva, Alfred gets consulted on a visionary sheik’s scheme to introduce salmon, and salmon-angling, to the country of Yemen. Alfred is deeply skeptical (salmon are cold-water fish that spawn in fresh water; Yemen is hot and largely desert), but the project gains traction when Peter Maxwell, the prime minister’s director of communications, seizes on it as a PR antidote to negative press related to the Iraq war. Alfred is pressed by his superiors to meet with the sheik’s real estate rep, the glamorous young Harriet, and embarks on a yearlong journey to realize the sheik’s vision of spiritual peace through fly-fishing for the people of Yemen.

THR doesn’t offer details about roles for any of the actors, but it isn’t difficult to guess that Ewan McGregor would be Dr. Alfred Jones, Kristin Scott-Thomas his wife Mary, and Emily Blunt the young Harriet.

If that plot sounds a bit stuffy, consider Amazon’s more concise blurb:

Paul Torday has found a way to combine a novel about fishing and all that it means with a satire involving politics, bureaucrats, the Middle East, the war in Iraq, and a sheikh who is really a mystic.

The questionable element here for me is Hallström, who has made a couple of wonderful movies and a few mediocre ones. Between that and the (hopefully erroneous) ‘rom-com’ descriptor, I wonder where this one is going. But with that cast and source material, I’ll be watching to find out.

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