The films of Isabel Coixet have been somewhat critically polarising, and it seems with The Bookshop, she’s set her sights on something decidedly mainstream: the sort of twee picture that might be on regular rotation on the BBC schedule. Her previous works have their highs and lows, but her latest at least has the distinction of being consistent: consistently flat.
It’s 1959, and widow Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) has plans to start a bookshop in the appropriately picturesque seaside village of Hardborough. She is politely baffled when her seemingly simple plan meets a surprising amount of resistance, chiefly led by wealthy villager Violet Gamat (Patricia Clarkson), who regards Hardborough as her own personal fiefdom. Florence finds an unlikely ally in the shape of Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy), a gentle – though repressed and reclusive – bibliophile.
The Bookshop looks ravishing, all subdued hues that allow calculatedly bright clothing to almost fly out of the screen. The ingredients for a great film are here, but it’s as though they’ve been incorrectly mixed. As Florence, Emily Mortimer is radiant, giving the character a courageous and almost mischievous edge. Nighy is equally good, turning in an intelligent, dignified performance, even though it’s the sort of role he could rather easily play in his sleep. The townspeople are presented as a collection of eccentrics, many of whom speak in an oddly stilting fashion. When the movie’s key narrative conflict arises (the bookshop potentially being pushed out of business), it’s rather difficult to have a preference for one outcome over the other.
There’s nothing altogether bad about The Bookshop; it’s just that the overall product is too slight to warrant any type of true emotional connection. It’s visually elegant and admirably performed, but it has more in common with a flowery, forgettable magazine article than the literature it champions onscreen.
The Bookshop does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for The Bookshop here: