Chew's Review - The Bookshop

By Gary Chew | September 13, 2018 | 

The Bookshop is a dead giveaway film title for those who want their movies to show massive vehicles crashing, guns firing and bodies swinging from building to building or merely dropping stone dead on a sanguinary field of conflict. Yes, if such is what you want see at the movies, then don't patronize this “bookshop.” Director Isabel Coixet's fetchingly intelligent film is having none of that.

Lovers of a good book … particularly those who savor a story that lingeringly enfolds them … ought to flock to this picture that was adapted by Coixet from Penelope Fitzgerald's acclaimed 1978 novel. It carries the same title.

Our spirited heroine, Florence Green, is played by Emily Mortimer. Mrs. Green has been a widow for sixteen years. She's childless, remains unmarried and still wears her wedding band. Her husband was killed in World War II. A small inheritance has made it possible for Florence to work toward opening a bookshop in a quaint seaside English village. It would be Hardborough's first book store ever.

Florence owns and lives in an old, musty building she knows will be the perfect venue for starting up her business. But the drafty structure appears to have water leaks which prove worrisome to people who sit on the town council. And besides, Mrs. Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), an outspoken exponent of Hardborough's local art scene, has set her cap for turning the building into an art center.

Violet is the type-A wife of General Gamart (Reg Wilson). The Gamarts throw smashing dinner parties. Florence has just received her first invitation to a Gamart soiree … or maybe the affair was scheduled for afternoon tea. I can't recall if the sun was shown shining in that scene or not.

What we have here are first ripples of a class stand off: Florence, the middle class, feisty intellectual (Democrat) … and Violet, presenting as a privileged, well-off lady of quiet power plays (Republican).

The Bookshop, which I'd define as a film of “soft” feminism, but told in spades, name-drops aplenty ... both authors, and book titles. Oh, let me see, there's “Lolita,” but not a syllable of Vladimir Nabokov's name is spoken. Ray Bradbury and titles like “Fahrenheit 451” and “Dandelion Wine” bounce around a bit. Then there's the use of “A High Wind In Jamaica.” It's poignantly positioned as the film's closes.

All characters in The Bookshop keep your attention, but none of them better than Edmund Brundish. Bill Nighy is likely the only actor from across the Pond who could do this role so well. Brundish is an eccentric and proper gentleman who lives alone, and mostly stays alone. He seldom ventures onto the sidewalks and roadways of Hardborough. Florence sends errand boys to Brundish's home bearing new publications just in to her shop. Edmund is one of those voracious readers we hear so much about.

The story is set at about the time Bradbury's great work, “Fahrenheit 451” was published. As Brundish opens this book, not ever having heard the title, he says in a dour, flat delivery, “Uh, I wonder what this book is about.” He adds it to his stacks upon stacks of reading material.

Brundish proves to be, in a manner of speaking, Florence's champion against her fierce detractors. Old Edmund is not so easily put into any political niche as I've done with Florence and Violet. But Brunish is really one hell of a guy. Must be all those books he's read.

The Bookshop is a good place to stop by … for a really good motion picture. I loved it.
Copyright © 2018 by Gary Chew. All rights reserved. 


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