It is essentially built into the title that Lasse Hallström’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is guaranteed to be boring as all get out, but with the presence of Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor, it is easy to fall into the trap of vesting more interest in this film than there should be. Although Hallström has directed his fair share of romantically simpering movies (e.g. Dear John, Casanova, and Something to Talk About), there is only so much that can be done to make Simon Beaufoy’s (of Slumdog Millionaire fame) adapted screenplay come across as engaging.
Delving right into the heart of the issue, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen‘s chief goal is to address the nature of Anglo-Middle Eastern relations, which are in a particularly grim state. As such, the head of the British government’s PR department, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), fishes (yes, an overt pun) for any story that exhibits a positive British presence in the Middle East. Obviously, such a feat narrows the scope of projects from which Patricia can select to help publicize. Luckily, a wealthy sheik (the only kind of sheik really) named (naturally) Muhammed (Amr Waked) has poured vast funds toward the initiative of creating a safe haven for salmon fishing…in the Yemen. The funds in question are managed by a firm where Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (a last name that gets repeated to a point that makes you want to stab yourself with a fishing rod) works.
Harriet’s devotion to the project leads her to contact the most authoritative source in the fisheries department, Fred Jones. Like most people who are obsessed with a single topic and/or entity, Fred has Asperger’s syndrome, a fact that Harriet throws in his face when he goads her to come to work in the wake of discovering that her recently acquired boyfriend, Robert (Tom Mison), has been declared missing in action after being called to Afghanistan.
For a moment, Harriet believes Fred’s intent in coming to her apartment is to chastise her for not responding to his work-related phone calls, but when she determines that he has actually stopped by just to check up on her and make sure she has eaten, her perception of him changes entirely. From this point forward, their relationship turns into the deepest possible friendship–one that Fred, who is basically estranged from his wife, Ashley (Catherine Steadman), interprets as more than what it truly is.
In the meantime, Fred develops a bond with the shah after saving his life from a terrorist (how fucking typical). As the two begin to understand one another more and more, Fred becomes increasingly sympathetic and attached to the project, whereas before, he never dreamed that salmon fishing could be a reality in a climate with such inhospitable water temperatures. As the search for ten thousand salmon to fill the Yemeni body of water begins, Patricia is forced to deal with the overzealous British salmon fishing population, who will not stand for their salmon being poached out of British waters. The solution, she grasps, is in enlisting the farm-raised salmon generally reserved for selling in grocery stores (you know, Tesco and such). The only catch (yeah, another pun) is, these salmon are not conditioned to swim upstream.
Around the time that this hare-brained scheme is presented is when Salmon Fishing in the Yemen starts to transform into something truly designed for the over 80s set in its overly bromidic tone. Fred, who insists on believing nothing beyond the scientific, yields to admitting that faith is the key to success in this otherwise inconceivable goal. Not to mention the key to success in admitting his feelings for “Ms. Chetwode-Talbot.” Unfortunately for him, her boyfriend is alive and well, just in time to perform publicity damage control after the salmon fishing endeavor is sabotaged by a handful of local militants. It is now Harriet’s difficult decision to choose between love and obligation. Guess which one she chooses?