Ewan McGregor’s new romantic drama is based on the idea that fly fishing could help restore peace in the Middle East. So does it go swimmingly or is he in too deep? Graham Young finds out

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

12A, 106 mins


AT the age of 41, Ewan McGregor should be at the peak of his work – but this eclectic romantic drama proves that he remains something of an enigma of British cinema.

A clown prince, still waiting to be king.

Similarly, this National Lottery-financed BBC Film doesn’t quite know whether it wants to be a full blown romantic drama, a geo-political commentary, a satirical comedy...

Or, indeed, anything but a film which appears to be caught between a rock crab and a hard place.

It’s closest cinema companion this year is another British movie abroad, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

But whereas the closing credits of John Madden’s older-generation, India-based comedy leaves everyone with a spring in their step, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen feels like a comparatively youthful but more contrived attempt to bolt romantic dilemmas on to the top of an already implausible story.

The noble idea that taking fly fishing for salmon to the Middle East would be a good way of illustrating how a peaceful existence could be achieved by non-military means doesn’t really work.

Any more than my heart was leaping for any of the cast.

But it’s still an enjoyably watchable film with McGregor typically proving that he remains the leading man of choice if any director wants to hire a handsome, older-than-he-looks hunk to take off his shirt.

He still has a boyish twinkle in his eye, an aptitude for comedy and an endearing tendency to offer a little smirk even when he ought to be doing nothing of the kind.

Since the perceptive Danny Boyle launched McGregor’s career with Shallow Grave and Trainspotting in the mid ’90s, the star from Perth has won five Empire movie magazine Actor of the Year awards without picking up a single Oscar nomination.

He’s been particularly good in Young Adam, Moulin Rouge! and The Ghost but had the gross misfortune to achieve the dream of being paid to yield a lightsaber in the appalling Star Wars’ prequel, The Phantom Menace.

And don’t mention Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream.

Perhaps he is too talented for his own good, in need of more discipline and direct competition than can be provided by his main UK peers working on other movies – Jude Law, 39; Clive Owen, 47; Orlando Bloom, 34, Daniel Craig, 44, Christian Bale, 38 and James McAvoy, 32.

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen sees McGregor’s fisheries’ expert, Dr Alfred Jones, freewheeling at the heart of a very predictable love triangle story.

Emily Blunt is a consultant called Harriet who recently met new boyfriend Capt Robert Mayers, a soldier played almost anonymously by One Day star Tom Mison.

In total comparison, Kristin Scott Thomas is a strident hoot as the Prime Minister’s press officer Patricia Maxell, displaying all of the rapier wit, intelligence and appalling insensitivity of an Edwina Currie as she attempts to put some unnecessary top spin on to a story simply because she discovers that two million people enjoy fishing.

Her F-words, though, put paid to the theory that you’re allowed one offensive curse in a 12A movie.

And her early line mentioning Vera Lynn and suicide belt in the same sentence is crass in the extreme.

The script is by The Full Monty’s Simon Beaufoy, more recently an Oscar-winner for Slumdog Millionaire and nominated again for 127 Hours.

Pitching him in with The Cider House Rules’ veteran Swedish director Lasse Hallström sounds like an odd combination on paper and so it appears on screen with a story involving London, Scotland, Afghanistan and the Yemen.

Despite some good landscape cinematography by Terry Stacey (Dear John), just like the drive towards multiculturalism risks diminishing what makes each individual community special, this Salmon feels as if it’s been a little bit lost in a Hollywood blender.

Less a free-swimming king of the river, then, more of a fish cake in quality breadcrumbs.