The Bookshop (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
The Bookshop is a comedy/drama that will play big with audiences of an older demographic and fans of arthouse cinema, as well as the novel from which it was made.
Bill Nighy. We don’t deserve him.
Has a wonderful, authentic look and feel with three terrific performances from Emily Mortimer, Nighy, and Patricia Clarkson.
Meanders and dwells too long at times to be completely effective.
There are more than a few people who labeled The Bookshop uninteresting and boring.
Easily watchable at home, and although not a bad movie, I cannot urge anyone to rush out to the theater and see this.
It takes 50 minutes before Bill Nighy ruthlessly swoops in and steals The Bookshop right out from under a conniving Patricia Clarkson and a wonderfully demure Emily Mortimer, but thieve the movie he does, with one monologue about whether or not he is a widow.
In one of the most enjoyable moments of the year, Nighy dismisses straightaway the rumors of his wife’s passing by weaving a ridiculously charming truth about a separation that occurred six months after he and his wife were wed and the rumors he has heard regarding the 45 years that have passed since he last spoke with her. The sequence brings much needed frivolity to another pleasant but lumbering film about Mortimer’s Florence Green, herself a widow, trying to open a bookshop in the idyllic little seaside community of Hardborough in the late 1950s.
The Bookshop is directed by Isabel Coixet and adapted from Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1978 novel of the same name and Mortimer is simply trying to be find a way to bring good to the world, as she struggles with the death of her husband during World War II. She quickly runs headlong into something of a town dignitary, Violet Gamart (Clarkson), who is pleased and then taken aback upon meeting Florence and learning of her plans.
Violet’s opposition stems from Florence’s purchase of The Old House, where she will open her shop and live, a move which throws Violet into a dither, ruining her plans to turn the residence into a community arts center. As Nighy’s quirky and reclusive Mr. Brundish informs her, Violet will not stop until she gets what she wants and “people like Violet…have made me what I am.”
The dramatic seeds are subtle enough to keep us curious about what is about to transpire. Mortimer is convincing as a widow with a good heart and she becomes easy to root for, especially traveling into something of a battle of wills she never could foresee coming her way. Clarkson portrays a diabolical manipulator with the ease of breathing, convincing in every scene, and Nighy’s command of his few scenes and intermittent screen time bubble with an energy the film occasionally struggles to maintain.
Coixet’s film was a huge hit in her native Spain, where it landed 12 Goya Awards nominations (Spain’s equivalent to the Oscars) and won three prizes, including Best Film. Over here, the film seems to have a number of qualities and characteristics that make it feel like it should be a terrific movie, but lacks a cohesiveness that brings all those elements together.
For example, the film retains a wonderful look and feel, through terrific lensing by cinematographer Jean-Claude Larrieu, production designers Llorenç Miquel and Rebeca Comerma and art director Marc Pou. However, we never really feel like the community is hardwired into the story. Florence’s reasons for opening the bookshop are personal, it symbolizes a first encounter for her and her husband, but other than the affront put upon her by Violet, it feels a reach to see Florence embed this devoutly in a community she barely knows.
That disconnect between domicile and individual is bridged somewhat by Florence’s connection to Mr. Brundish and also a feisty, outspoken young girl, who becomes an assistant in the shop, Christine (Honor Kneafsey). As a childless widow, we feel Florence and Christine’s connection carry significance and meaning, but we really do not need it.
The very nature and construct of The Bookshop provides ample understanding that Florence is a good-hearted person. If anything, narration provided by Julie Christie is all too eager to inform us of that throughout the film, as is the opposition to Florence’s efforts by the storm cloud that is Violet Gamart.
The Bookshop is laid back, measured, and a perfectly fine movie. That it fails to dazzle outside of a couple key moments is disappointing, but fans of quiet, contemplative, human-interest dramas will likely have little to complain about, while others will simply be wanting more than what Coixet gives us.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Bill Nighy, Honor Kneafsey, Hunter Tremayne, Reg Wilson, Frances Barber.
Director: Isabel Coixet
Written by: Isabel Coixet
Adapted from the novel “The Bookshop” by Penelope Fitzgerald
Release Date: August 24, 2018