THE BOOKSHOP, Spain, 2018. Starring Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, Honor Kneafsey, James Lance, Hunter Tremayne, Frances Barber, Reg Wilson, Michael Fitzgerald, Nigel O' Neill, Harvey Bennett. Directed by Isabel Coixet. Rated PG (Mild themes).
A title like The Bookshop seems a box office risk. With the closing of so many bookshops, with the reliance on Internet, social media, online books, the title seems, despite so many readers’ regrets, something of an anachronism.
However, Spanish writer-director, Isabel Coixet, is certainly an admirer of books. In 2007, she made a film with the evocative title, The Secret Life of Words.
While the director is Spanish, she has made quite a number of films in English, in the United States, in England. This one is very much in England, though the location photography for the British coast was done in Ireland.
The setting is 1959. Florence is a war widow, still grieving and unsettled but who now decides to fulfil an ambition to open a bookshop in a small town on the coast. She feels she is ready. She loves books. She has legal advice, she has financial advice. Could it go wrong?
The answer lies in a character of a local grande dame, exercising power in the town, seeing herself as the leader of the town. She is the wife of a retired general, Mrs Gamart. She is played, all stops out, as very British by American actress, Patricia Clarkson. While Florence had taken possession of an empty residence, The Old House, Mrs Gamart had intended the house to be used as a local arts centre.
The film shows Florence’s exhilaration in setting up the bookshop. She is helped in the store by a young local girl, Christine (Heather Kneafsey), quite outspoken, quite determined, but, as she says, not a reader, although she enjoys geography and maths. Another ally for Florence is the local recluse, Edmund Brundage, played effectively and quietly by Bill Nighy. Edmund makes contact with Florence and she supplies some books, getting him interested in the works of Ray Bradbury (especially Fahernheit 451 and the story of book burning) and asking his advice as to the literary quality of Lolita and whether she should stock it.
The atmosphere of this film is very British, old-style. And audiences who appreciate going back into the lives of 20th century Britain will enjoy this. The performances are excellent, Emily Mortimer charming and determined as Florence,Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, Heather Kneafsey, all quite persuasive. There is a local cad played by James Lance.
The film is told in voice-over, the voice being that of Julie Christie. And, at the end, it is revealed who her character is.
As with so many British stories, there are bittersweet tones in the film which also make it engaging if sometimes saddening.
Transmission Released May 24th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.