I read the book last year and loved it, (review here), so I was crossing my fingers that the film would also be good.
The film stars Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott-Thomas, with the rather gorgeous Egyptian actor Amr Waked as the Shiekh. It was directed by Lasse Hallström from a script adapted by Slumdog Oscar-winner Simon Beaufoy.
A great cast and crew, but I had read that the film wasn’t as good as the book, so I kept my fingers crossed… I’m not going to dwell on the plot. For the first three-quarters of the film, it stayed faithful to the book, and I even recognised some of the dialogue.
The one major change was that the PM’s spin doctor changed sex for the film – Peter became Patricia Maxwell and gave Scott-Thomas the chance to play a prize-bitch.
Being a very British film, the makers undoubtedly wanted to have a character that wasn’t a remake of the foul Malcolm Tucker from the BBC’s brilliant political satire In the thick of it. This worked in that KS-T was perfectly cast, but she didn’t really get enough to get her teeth into. That was the fault of the screenplay which often emulated the format of the novel also, which is largely written as e-mails, letters, memos, reportage, and then later diary entries. So KS-T was always on the phone, or typing at her laptop, and was reacting against the ether rather than real people most of the time, which rather wasted her.
Which brings me to Ewan McGregor. He’s so youthful and normally full of joie de vivre, that it was hard to see him as a hen-pecked boffin type. However, he is now forty-one, and nearing the age I envisaged for Fred; dressed down in tweedy jackets and pullovers he actually fitted the rôle well. Then, when he did his voiceovers for the memos and e-mails, his sardonic delivery and his character’s inability to tell a joke won me over, and I loved him as Dr Jones. He handled the light comedy and Fred’s emotional confusion equally well.
I sat back and was enjoying the film: having a good chuckle, being amazed by Emily Blunt’s beauty, admiring the Scottish and Yemeni scenery, laughing at Fred and his wife Mary miming playing musical instruments in a baroque quartet, and all along rooting for Fred of course. Then we reached the last reels, and a departure from the book…
Yes, this is a rom-com. It can’t get too dark or satiric, especially in the last reels. Rom-coms have a formula, and you can guess where I’m going – I won’t spell it out for you. The formula successfully diluted the book’s central message of having faith and following your dream, but acknowledging that dreams can be shattered.
It was intermittently funny and romantic and had charming leads in McGregor and Blunt (plus the gorgeous Sheikh). It lacked bite though, and being partly a BBC film, did feel slightly TV-movie-ish at times.
It wasn’t a bad film at all, but it was a movie first, book later one.
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