The premise is preposterous. A Yemeni sheikh (Amr Waked) thinks his favorite pastime of salmon fishing—which he enjoys when staying at his palatial manor in Scotland—would bring peace and unity to the embattled people of his homeland. His arid homeland.
So he hires a consulting firm to coordinate the project of bringing thousands of fish and even more thousands of gallons of water to the desert. Enter the lovely Harriet (Emily Blunt), who with her quiet optimism attempts to guide the project to its unlikely conclusion. Harriet approaches Fred (Ewan McGregor), one of Britain's leading fisheries experts, who quickly and curtly writes back that the proposal is "fundamentally unfeasible."
The project would be dead in the water—or lack thereof—if it weren't for the fact that the Prime Minister's deliciously hyperactive press secretary Patricia (Kristin Scott Thomas) catches wind of the project. Desperate to cover "Anglo-Arab news about stuff that doesn't explode" and to appeal to the 2 million salmon fishers she discovers are residing in the UK, she puts all the weight of the Prime Minister's office behind the project, basically blackmailing Fred into taking the job.
So Fred leaves his well-ordered London home and his increasingly more distant wife for the Scottish highlands and the Yemeni desert. He's joined by Harriet, whose army boyfriend has just been called to Afghanistan. This unlikely pair finds needed distraction in the Herculean task—and eventually, comforting company in each other.
Fred also works closely with the sheikh, a man who is the yin to his yang, faith vs. Fred's science. The sheikh finds spiritual significance in the patience, persistence, and humility that fishing requires. Fred says that not only is he not a religious man, he doesn't even know anyone who goes to church. Well, he attends a different, well-loved "church." "On Sunday we go to Target," he explains. Their spiritual conversations—and the way the Yemeni locals respond to the fishing project—lend an intriguing angle to the film. (It's "faith" in a broad, generic sense, hardly what most Christians mean by the word.)
Salmon Fishing is based on Paul Torday's 2006 bestselling novel by the same name. Where the book is known and loved for its snark, the film version—adapted by award-winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, The Full Monty)—is more sweet, quirky romance. Director Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, My Life As a Dog) offers plenty of eye candy from all three locations: bustling London, lush Scotland, exotic Yemen. We get many scenes of our attractive leads in these beautiful locations, as if posing for magazine spreads.
Instead of these beauty pauses, I would have enjoyed a bit more dialogue between Fred and Harriet, and less leaning on the visual beauty to do most of the work. And, oddly enough, I would have enjoyed a smidge more about the fish and the project at hand. With nearly all of that info left out, I wasn't as invested in whether or not the project would actually succeed.