Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

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This article is about the film. For the industry itself, see Fishing in Yemen.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Lasse Hallström
Produced by Paul Webster
Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy
Based on Salmon Fishing in the Yemen 
by Paul Torday
Music by Dario Marianelli
Cinematography Terry Stacey
Edited by Lisa Gunning
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 10 September 2011 (2011-09-10) (TIFF)
  • 9 March 2012 (2012-03-09) (USA)
  • 20 April 2012 (2012-04-20) (UK)
Running time 107 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $14,500,000[1]
Box office $34,564,651[2]

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a 2011 British romantic comedy-drama film directed by Lasse Hallström and starring Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas and Amr Waked. Based on the 2007 novel of the same name by Paul Torday, and a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy, the film is about a fisheries expert who is recruited by a consultant to help realize a sheikh's vision of bringing the sport of fly fishing to the Yemen desert, initiating an upstream journey of faith to make the impossible possible. The film was shot on location in London England, Scotland, and Morocco from August to October 2010.[3] The film premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.[4] The film received generally positive reviews upon its release,[5][6] and earned $34,564,651 in revenue worldwide.[2]


Renowned fisheries expert Dr Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) receives an email from financial adviser Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), seeking advice on a project to bring salmon fishing to the Yemen—a project being bankrolled by a wealthy Yemeni sheikh. Jones dismisses the project as "fundamentally unfeasible" because Yemen cannot provide the necessary cold temperatures and water needed to sustain salmon. Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister's overzealous press secretary, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), frustrated by news accounts of an accidental mosque bombing in Afghanistan, instructs her team to find a positive story to help improve relations between Britain and the Islamic world. Later, she suggests the salmon fishing story to the PM's office.

Jones is soon pressured by his boss to meet with Harriet and support the salmon fishing project. When they meet, he expresses his doubts, but Harriet patiently corrects Jones' misconceptions of the Yemen environment, telling him about a dam that can play an important role in the project's success. Frustrated, Jones storms out of the meeting. Later, after his boss presents him with an ultimatum, he accepts a position on the project, despite his concerns that it may ruin his reputation in the scientific community.

At their next meeting, Jones gives a presentation on what is needed for the project—including transporting by air thousands of salmon from British rivers to the Yemen at a cost of £50 million. Harriet takes his plan seriously and arranges for Jones to meet the "visionary" sheikh (Amr Waked) at his riverside estate in the Scottish Highlands. When Jones arrives, he is provided fishing gear, and soon he feels at home. The sheikh is excited to meet Jones, the inventor of the "Woolly Jones",[7] a famous fishing fly. While the sheikh acknowledges that the project may sound crazy, he still believes that fishing is a noble pursuit that promotes harmony. Later, when Jones claims to be a man of no faith, the sheikh points out that fishing requires immense faith in an outcome that is highly improbable.

After his wife accepts a position in Geneva, Jones realizes his marriage is over, and he devotes himself to the project. Despite his painfully awkward social interactions, he enjoys working with Harriet, who is pleased at the progress they are making.[Note 1] Their enthusiasm is interrupted, however, when Harriet learns that her new boyfriend, Robert, is missing in action in Afghanistan. Devastated, Harriet withdraws to her apartment. Concerned over Harriet's depression, Jones comes to her apartment, and Harriet lashes out at him, thinking he just wants her to come back to work. When she sees that he has brought her a sandwich and wine, however, she breaks down and embraces him.

Meanwhile, the sheikh continues his work, despite the pressure of radicals who accuse him of introducing evil Western ways to their region. Back in Scotland, Patricia joins Harriet and Jones at the sheikh's estate, where she explains that because of the spirited opposition by fly fishermen to removing salmon from British rivers, they will need to proceed with farmed salmon. The sheikh does not believe that salmon bred in captivity will survive and even Jones is doubtful. When the sheikh rejects her offer, Jones resigns his government job to continue with the project.

The next day, Jones convinces the sheikh to give the farmed salmon a try. Although his science background tells him otherwise, Jones has faith that the salmon will instinctively swim upstream—a faith the sheikh finds ironic. Just then, a man hired by Yemeni radicals attempts to assassinate the sheikh, who is saved by Jones' quick thinking and accurate casting technique. Soon after, they return to the Yemen, where helicopters arrive carrying pods filled with salmon. Harriet and Jones continue to grow closer. After a moonlight swim, he asks her if there was a "theoretical possibility" of the two of them ending up together. She accepts with a kiss on his cheek, but will need some time. He says he is ready to give her all the time she needs.

Meanwhile in London, Patricia learns that Harriet's boyfriend survived the Afghanistan operation. Realizing the PR potential of reuniting the couple at the upcoming press conference in Yemen, Patricia sets her plan in motion. At the press conference, while Jones and Harriet awkwardly acknowledge their feelings for each other—he presents her with a fly he made and named the "Chetwode-Talbot Beauty"—Harriet's boyfriend Robert arrives and the couple are reunited, leaving Jones heartbroken. That night, Harriet realizes her feelings for Robert have changed, and when Jones gets a text message from his wife asking him to return, he declines.

During a brief speech the following day, the sheikh explains that he built the dam to irrigate the land and give his people a better life. When they open the pods, at first the salmon float with the current, but then one fish starts to swim upstream, and then others, and soon everyone celebrates the success of the project. Later, while Robert and the foreign minister fly-fish for the photographers, terrorists break into the dam, kill a guard, and open the flood gates. Although the party survive the resulting flash flood, the valley is left in ruins. The sheikh blames himself for the tragedy, saying he expected too much of people to understand what he was trying to do. He vows to rebuild the dam—this time with the support of the local community.

The next day, as Harriet prepares to leave, she approaches Jones to say goodbye. Their parting is awkward, with neither mentioning their romantic feelings for each other. Just then, the sheikh calls out and points to where a salmon is jumping from the water. Filled with hope, Jones tells Harriet he will stay and help them rebuild. Harriet asks if he will need an assistant—"a partner"—and he realizes she is talking about herself. They embrace, and then hold hands while looking out over the river.




The screenplay for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was written by Simon Beaufoy, based on the novel by Paul Torday. The epistolary novel won the 2007 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, and the 2008 Waverton Good Read Award. Through a series of letters and documents, Torday creates a political satire that focused more on the "art of political spin" than on the force of the human spirit.[9] Beaufoy enjoyed the challenge of transforming a fairly complex novel written in an unusual format—a series of emails, text messages, interviews, and testimony extracts—into a film. Beaufoy acknowledged, "I just love adapting material that allows room for creativity and allows room for me to be very present in the process, I suppose. Sometimes when you’re adapting something classic and famous you have to adopt a different attitude, to something like Salmon Fishing where it had such an unusual narrative and such an unusual structure, that you got quite a free reign [sic] to do interesting things with it."[10] Beaufoy integrated the emails, text messages, and chat texts into the film's narrative.

Beaufoy's screenplay is decidedly different from the novel in several respects. The most obvious difference is that his press secretary is a woman, played by Kristen Scott Thomas, whereas in the novel, the character is a man, Peter Maxwell.[11] Where the novel focuses on political satire, the film is more about a man who decides to change direction in his life.[9] In the novel, Jones is noticeably older than the film character, and the romantic subplot with Harriet is kept in the background because of the political satire. By making Jones younger, Beaufoy added a "quirky flair" to the character that gives the audience a "completely different experience in watching a man overcome himself to achieve happiness."[9] Beaufoy noted, "That's the difference when reading the book. You can perceive specific conflicts, but when it's onscreen you have to create something different, something the audience can see and feel and root for."[9]


For director Lasse Hallström, Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt were his "first choices" to play the leading roles. "They brought the lightness and the humour to the material," Hallström later observed.[12] He also felt fortunate to get Kristen Scott-Thomas to play the role of the bossy press secretary, Patricia Maxwell, recalling, "I knew she could be funny, as most actors can, but she brought that seriousness combined with a bit of heart."[12] For Hallström, it was that combination of humour and seriousness that allowed the actress to capture the balance between the film's sentiment and political satire.[12] Egyptian actor Amr Waked was cast in the role of the sheikh. Waked has enjoyed major success and fame in his own country and throughout the Arabic-speaking world. English-speaking audiences may recognize him as the fundamentalist Muslim cleric in the 2005 film Syriana and the HBO series House Of Saddam.[13]

Filming locations[edit]

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was shot on location in London, Scotland, and Morocco. Scenes set in Yemen were filmed in Ouarzazate in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains.[14] The restaurant scene in London was filmed at the Oxo Tower. The Sheikh's house in Scotland was filmed at Ardverikie House.[15] Reshooting and water tank work was filmed at Black Hangar Studios in the UK. Principal photography started on 6 August 2011.[3]


Music for the film was composed and orchestrated by Dario Marianelli. The score features Leo Abrahams (guitar), Dirk Campbell (woodwind), Giles Lewin (oud), and the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Benjamin Wallfisch. The original soundtrack album was released on 20 March 2012 by Lakeshore Records. The Scottish folksong "Mairi's Wedding" by The Clancy Brothers, which is played over one scene, and "Where You Go" by The Young Romans, the song played over the end credits, are not included on the album.[16]


Critical response[edit]

The film received generally favourable reviews from critics. In his review in the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan called the film a "pleasant fantasy" and a "charming film whose few attempts at seriousness are best forgotten or ignored."[17] Turan praised the performances of Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor, concluding

Blunt and McGregor are two of the most gifted and attractive actors working today, able to play off each other with great style, and when they invest themselves in these amusing characters they bring to life the film's very contrived plot.[17]

In her review for The Washington Post, Ann Hornaday gave the film two and a half out of four stars, calling the film an "absurdist but gently winning romantic comedy" that "works a strange kind of wonder".[18] Hornaday praised the director's "assured hand and feather-light touch", as well as the acting performances by Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt, who finds "an easygoing rhythm with her leading man".[18] Hornaday continued:

It's the serendipity of creative juxtaposition that Hallström is clearly after in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, from Scott Thomas spiking the honey with dollops of venom to the fabulous kilts and kaffiyehs worn by the sheik's bodyguards at his rustic Scottish redoubt. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is less a classic fish-out-of-water tale than a fish-in-strange-waters tale, a study in diametric opposites that finds unexpected synchronies and moments of almost mystical harmony. Viewers who take the sheikh's advice and suspend their disbelief, even for a moment, may well find themselves hooked.[18]

Hornaday found Salmon Fishing in the Yemen a "surprisingly lush, endearing little film, in which a swelling sense of romanticism thoroughly banishes even the most far-fetched improbabilities."[18] In his review for The Telegraph, Robbie Collins gave the film three out of five stars, calling it "cinema at its most easily digestible" with a cast that is as "unthreateningly attractive as its sense of humour is cosily inclusive."[19] Collins concluded that Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a "disarmingly nice hour and three quarters of gentle romance and even gentler comedy."[19]

The film received some negative reviews. Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian, who gave the film two out of five stars, wrote that it "feels as if you've seen it many times before".[20] According to Bradshaw, the weakest scenes of the film involve the ferocious government PR chief (Kristin Scott Thomas), with "much lip-pursing and eye-rolling, but nothing funny or believable in the script for her to say."[20]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 67% positive rating among critics, based on 136 reviews.[5] The film holds a score of 58 on Metacritic, based on 35 reviews.[6]

Box office[edit]

The film opened in 18 theatres in the United States on 9 March 2012, taking in $225,000 for the three-day weekend. The film expanded to 483 theatres by the end of March, when it had grossed over $3 million.[2]

As of June 2012, the film has grossed $9,047,981 in the United States, and $25,516,670 in other territories, for a worldwide total of $34,564,651.[2]

Awards and nominations[edit]

In 2012, the film was nominated for the European Film Awards People's Choice Award.

The film was also nominated for 3 Golden Globe Awards including Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical, Best Actor - Comedy or Musical for McGregor, and Best Actress - Comedy or Musical for Blunt.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jones exhibits some symptoms associated with Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.[8] In one scene, Harriet mocks his overly-formal behavior as a sign of Asperger's.
  1. ^ Ellwood, Gregory (12 May 2012). "Lionsgate U.K. keeps it local". Variety. Retrieved 9 December 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  3. ^ a b "Shooting commences on Salmon Fishing in the Yemen". BBC Press Office. 6 August 2010. Retrieved 2 December 2012. 
  4. ^ Punter, Jennie (26 July 2011). "Toronto unveils first pix". Variety. Retrieved 26 July 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2012)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 26 January 2013. 
  6. ^ a b "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen". Metacritic. Retrieved 2 May 2012. 
  7. ^ Lasse Hallström (director) (2011). Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (subtitles) (DVD). SONY Pictures. 
  8. ^ Spence, J.P. (22 March 2012). "Film Interview: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen". Topanga Messenger. Retrieved 22 March 2012. 
  9. ^ a b c d Spence, J.P. (22 March 2012). "Film Interview: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen". Topanga Messenger. Retrieved 5 December 2012. 
  10. ^ Anton, Mike (12 March 2012). "Simon Beaufoy Interview". The Film Stage. Retrieved 5 December 2012. 
  11. ^ Torday, Paul (2007). Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. New York: Mariner. ISBN 978-0156034562. 
  12. ^ a b c Toro, Gabe (8 March 2012). "Lasse Hallstrom Talks 'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen'". IndieWire. Retrieved 6 December 2012. 
  13. ^ McDowell, Adam (19 April 2012). "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen actor Amr Waked on going against the current". National Post. Retrieved 6 December 2012. 
  14. ^ "Interview: Ewan Mcgregor, Emily Blunt, Amr Waked, and Paul Webster". Close-Up Film. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  15. ^ White, Jim (13 April 2012). "Salmon fishing in Scotland: hooked on the Spey". The Telegraph. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  16. ^ "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen Original Motion Picture Soundtrack". AllMusic. Retrieved 4 December 2012. 
  17. ^ a b Turan, Kenneth (9 March 2012). "Movie review: 'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 December 2012. 
  18. ^ a b c d Hornaday, Ann (9 March 2012). "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen". The Washington Post. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  19. ^ a b Collin, Robbie (19 April 2012). "Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  20. ^ a b Bradshaw, Peter (19 April 2012). "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen review". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 

External links[edit]