It is 1959 and Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) makes her dreams come true when she defies the odds and opens a bookshop in the sleepy seaside town of Hardborough in Suffolk. The widow does not count on the opposition from the narrow-minded locals who tow the line to the town's local socialite and doyenne (Patricia Clarkson), who uses her connections to enhance her status and power. But Florence's focused attempts to bring literature and 'good books' to the community attract the attention of Mr Brundish (Bill Nighy), a book lover who has become disillusioned by the mindset of the locals and has become a recluse.
Review by Louise Keller:
Courage is the central theme of this delightful film about books, passion and dreams. Adapted from Penelope Fitzgerald's novel by Spanish director Isabel Coixet, the film is replete with a wonderful sense of place as well and its clearly described protagonist who imbues characteristics to which we can all aspire. It is a hero's journey, whereby the hero is an unassuming widow with the gumption to follow her dream, stand by her principles and simply 'carry on'.
When we first meet Emily Mortimer's Florence Green, we understand she is a woman of integrity. We get to know and understand her by her behaviour and how she treats people. 'You're much too nice', the self-assured Christine (Honor Kneafsey) tells her, after the schoolgirl with the shock of curls convinces her to employ her as her twelve pound a week part time assistant, despite the fact she is too young and does not like reading. There is a lovely vibe about the relationship that develops between them.
With the exception of Bill Nighy's Edmund Brundish, an enigmatic and reclusive book lover, the remaining characters are mostly described in terms of their profession and usefulness to Patricia Clarkson's thin-lipped manipulating socialite and doyenne. Clarkson is formidable - and nasty. In a boo-hiss kind of way. Meanwhile, Nighy is a scene stealer, drawing us to his anti-social character, who has clearly been disillusioned and damaged by events and people. Watch for the scene at the beach when he takes Florence's hand after declaring he wishes they might have met at another time and place. It is romantic and poignant. The earlier scene when Florence is invited to his home for afternoon tea is also one to savour. As for the confrontation between Nighy and Clarkson - it is filled with all the fire and spit you would expect.
I like the way the youngsters are integral to the story. Beyond Christine, there is Wally (Harvey Bennett), the gauche redhead, who is the go-between between Mr Brundish and Florence. He is the message bearer and transporter of books. Biographies about good people and novels about bad people. But then Florence sends Mr Brundish
Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.
Set in the fictional village of Hardborough in Suffolk, Coixot brings a lovely sense of place to the film, despite the fact that some of the Spanish and Northern Ireland filming locations are far beyond Suffolk. The winds of change rustle the highland grasses and shafts of light peek through the clouds as events change direction. How will the story play out? Will the manipulating town bully prevail and force Florence to abandon her dream? Or will goodness prevail?
Whether or not the story is an allegory for literature and the threats it is facing is for you to decide. For me, the story is rich with depictions of the strength of the human spirit and the way that goodness finds its way through the maze in unexpected ways. The identity of the character whose voice-over (by Julie Christie) sets the scene at the beginning of the film is not revealed until the very end. The final scene moved me enormously. Lovers of books and admirers of determination will embrace this enchanting film. I hope you will enjoy it, too.
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BOOKSHOP, THE (PG)
Spain, UK, Germany, 2018)
CAST: Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, Hunter Tremayne, Honor Kneafsey, James Lance, Frances Barber, Reg Wilson, Michael Fitzgerald, Harvey Bennett
DIRECTOR: Isabel Coixet
SCRIPT: Isabel Coixot (Novel by Penelope Fitzgerald)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jean-Claude Larrieu
EDITOR: Bernat Argones
MUSIC: Alfonso de Vilallonga
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Llorenc Miguel
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 24, 2018