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Saturday, April 6, 2019


(Bill Nighy)

This is a small gem of a movie that could easily fly under the radar here. (Review by Patrick Compton - 9/10)

On the face of it, The Bookshop could be seen as another example of nostalgic English heritage cinema as a widow moves on from an old sorrow to realise a lifetime’s dream of owning her own bookshop.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Perhaps this adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel needed to be made by an outsider, and Spanish director Isabel Coixet is certainly that. Set in the Suffolk seaside town of Hardborough in 1959, what could have been a cosy post-war drama becomes a quietly savage dissection of small-town life.

Coixet, who also wrote the script, makes her mark in the first major sequence when widow Florence Green (a sympathetic Emily Mortimer) is invited to a drinks party given by local bigwig Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson). But instead of a gathering to welcome her to the village, and support her worthy enterprise, it’s immediately clear that the battle lines are already being drawn up.

Florence has bought a rundown old house on the outskirts of town that she plans to turn into a bookshop, the dream of a lifetime. The envious, malicious and icy Gamart, who wants to turn the house into an arts centre, immediately begins a campaign to get rid of the interloper.

Coixet’s style cuts to the bare bones of the drama in which the town is revealed as a seething nest of gossip, malice and backbiting – precisely the kind of people who you’d imagine would vote “leave” in the current Brexit debate.

The courageous and honourable Florence has only two real friends, the understandably reclusive Edmund Brundish (the inimitable Bill Nighy), and a sparky young girl, Christine (Honor Kneafsey), who helps out at the bookshop.

Set against them are long list of local nasties, led by Mrs Gamart and the oleaginous BBC producer Milo North (James North), and also including her bank manager and lawyer. Almost everyone, it seems, wants to queer Florence’s pitch.

Coixet’s spare dialogue and the studied pace of the movie work particularly well with the silences either emphasising the lack of communication – and empathy – between the characters, or of ramping up the intensity of emotion. In this world of malice, envy and class-consciousness, the warm and increasingly affectionate relationship between the two book-lovers, Florence and Mr Brundish, stands out like a beacon of glowing humanity, underlined by the movie’s most powerful sequence as the pair meet on a windswept beach.

It’s also significant that this movie, which also serves as a love letter to book readers, chooses two novels in particular to foreground, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Visually, the film is a treat with director of photography Jean-Claude Larrieu initially portraying the town as a picturesque space, but as the emotional temperature plunges towards freezing, familiar images take on an increasingly sinister aspect.

The Bookshop is currently showing at Gateway and Watercrest Mall. – Patrick Compton