Swedish director Lasse Hallström specialises in marshmallowy adaptations of 3-for-2 paperbacks: ‘The Cider House Rules’ and ‘Chocolat’ were showered with award nominations, but Channing Tatum’s bronzed torso was the nearest his last effort, the Nicholas Sparks gloopfest ‘Dear John’, got to an Oscar. This attractively mounted but terminally twee take on Paul Torday’s comic bestseller could woo back the prestige crowd -- though it’s a contender for screen history’s least sexily titled romance.
Torday’s 2007 novel was a jaunty New Labour satire, imagining a Blairite government backing a loopy Yemeni sheik’s plan to introduce wild salmon fisheries to his native land. If that doesn’t sound particularly suited to Hallström’s sensibility, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (‘Slumdog Millionaire’) makes up the difference largely by gutting the source material of its satire.
Instead, focus is fixed on the insipidly chaste courtship between Emily Blunt, as the perky businesswoman charged with selling the sheik’s idea to the Brits, and Ewan McGregor, as the stuffed-shirt scientist reluctantly roped into the scheme. He’s married, while her soldier boyfriend (Tom Mison) is missing in Iraq; neither of these commitments is a match for Beaufoy’s steady stream of follow-your-heart-and-swim-against-the-tide metaphors.
The stars are endearing enough to keep things tolerable, though you may wonder why even McGregor’s Scots brogue sounds artificially sweetened here. It’s left to the reliably tangy Kristin Scott Thomas to spike things up a bit: in the gender-switched role of the PM’s impressively awful spokesperson, a woman who views the salmon plan entirely as a means of winning votes from the rural ‘Fishy Weekly’ (as she mispronounces it) demographic, she’s seemingly the only person on set who has read the novel at all. Addressing press, colleagues and her kids alike with equal jolly-hockeysticks distaste, she appears to have waded from an Armando Iannucci script into far less risky waters.