Starring Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Bill Nighy, Honor Kneafsey
There have been a surprising number of former supporting actresses moving up to lead roles this year. The latest, Emily Mortimer, who has continuously proven her diversity and range in films like Hugo, Elizabeth, and Notting Hill. Coincidentally, she and Patricia Clarkson have worked together numerous times, and do so again as opposing forces in this film. Clarkson has also worked with director Isabel Coixet twice before. It’s a shame The Bookshop never materializes into an engaging cinematic event. However, there is still much about this quaint picture to enjoy. Spectacular locations and Mercè Paloma’s vintage costume designs are worth the price of admission.
In the little coastal community of Hardborough, Suffolk, you either fall in step behind Violet Gamart (Clarkson) or you become her enemy. New resident Florence Green (Mortimer) inadvertently becomes Violet's enemy when she buys a dilapidated historic building and turns it into the town’s only bookstore. Violet, who envisions the building as a cultural arts center, begins scheming through back-channel politics and gossip to ensure the meek and noble Green is put out of business. There are however those in favor of change who support what Green is bringing to the community.
The Bookshop never finds the rhythm one would hope it would.
Whether trying to do absolute justice to Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel or something else, The Bookshop never finds the rhythm one would hope it would. The two opposing female characters are the epitome of the 1950s liberal and conservative, but Coixet’s screenplay portrays them in such a constrained fashion they never get those dramatic scenes that would elevate this from “stuffy British film” to something more appealing to mainstream audiences. The restraint shown here seesaws back and forth between artistic integrity and entertainment value and balance is never achieved.
The Bookshop is the ideal film for a rainy day matinee. What it succeeds so well with is transporting the audience to a time and place. Spain and Ireland stand in for Suffolk in the late 50’s. The grey coastal hues provide a subtle backdrop for the vivacious vintage dresses Clarkson’s vindictive character wears. Each of her outfits is more impressive than the last. The musical score is nearly non-existent, as quiet natural sounds are often the only complement to the dialogue. The Bookshop never rises to the level of Maudie or The Shipping News, which hopefully will not hurt Mortimer’s chances for future leading roles.
The costume design and locations are the major selling point here.