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THE BOOKSHOP gets 6/10 By the books

Directed by Isabel Coixet
Starring: Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson


The quintessential afternoon film that you’ll probably forget by dinner time, The Bookshop goes too easy with it’s crowd-pleasing charm, making this more of a hum-drum affair than a modest delight.

The titular bookshop opens up in the seaside town of Hardborough by Florence (Emily Mortimer), who re-establishes an old, abandoned, and possibly haunted house into her new livelihood, though this simple act invites both helpers and enemies. This main character, who seems written as more reactive to other characters than active, is outshone by her helper characters. It is them that are key to illuminating the book-lover aspect of the film, even if they’re going over the obvious classics like Fahrenheit 451 and Lolita, though more impassioned opinions and discussions over these works and others would’ve made this a proper film for book-lovers.

Her young protégé Christine (Honor Kneafsey) is more than half her age yet has twice the passion, and whose interest in literature and school-work sets her apart from most other on-screen children in recent films. Another book lover is the rich and isolated Edmund (Bill Nighy) who, after buying books from Florence, eventually invites her over for a meal and a quick discussion about books which soon turns into a number of revelations about his life. This scene alone, which Nighy dominates with his precise manner of speaking, is itself more engaging than most others with the underwritten Florence.

However, the enemy supporting characters seem to bring more life to Florence in comparison. Her main opponent, Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), doesn’t come across as much of an antagonising threat. Perhaps this is because most of her efforts to push out Florence from the bookshop (so she can turn it into an arts centre) seem so off-screen and seemingly inconsequential. Trying to woo Florence for conniving reasons is Milo (James Lance) who plays the part of the dashing, yet cocky and slightly malevolent stereotype to a T, with no room for any originality.

This mild and leisurely-paced story doesn’t wrap itself up in the tidiest and most predictable way, at least offering up a tad amount of ambivalent hopefulness in its conclusion. But it’s still preceded by a very standard and risk-averse story. Not knowing whether it wanted to go further in with the drama or light comedy, and not knowing how much conflict to put inside itself, The Bookshop would’ve been less forgettable if it had a better understanding of what it is and found that angle to go with. Instead, it’s tonally and thematically pulled apart from different directions and never hits home with any big satisfying punch (or soft satisfying touch).


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