The Bookshop – Movie Review

The movie, The Bookshop, was released in Australia only last week and sounded like a worthy view with its promise of quaint English seaside scenery. Sadly, even the scenery lands flat.

Florence Green, played by Emily Mortimer, is a widow who lost her husband during World War 2. They met in a Bookshop and her memories of their relationship are highlighted by out of focus shots with Vaseline smeared on the camera lens. Sixteen years later Florence is fed up just reading books, and decides to follow her dream of selling them.

She buys a derelict old building which has been sitting vacant for seven years on High Street which she makes her home and in which she sets up business as a Bookshop.

This does not go down well with the local doyen of society, Violet Gamart ( Patricia Clarkson), who envisaged this building as an Arts Centre, though not whilst it was empty, apparently.

Violet holds all the power within the community, and thus the other businesses follow her lead and are keen to see the Bookshop fail. 

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Florence’s only real friend is Bill Nighy, playing Bill Nighy with a total lack of humour, as the recluse, Brundish, and they share a common interest in their love of books. When Lolita is published Florence lends Brundish a copy of the book for his opinion on whether Lolita will sell well in this conservative ‘50s hamlet (read: backwater where no one reads). This is all a bit creepy as Bill Nighy is no spring chicken, and a later scene has hints of a “moment” in spite of a 30 to 40 year age difference.

Honor Kneafsey plays Christine, the young girl who assists Florence in the shop after school. She is worth watching, though there are clues as to the outcome of the storyline midway through the movie thanks to the Director being so heavy handed.

The soundtrack to this movie is unsettling. It has a distinctly European flavour, and in no way harbours any nostalgia for 1950’s England. ( I believe the production company were a combination of English, German and Spanish influences, and it shows).

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The protagonist bored me witless as I felt no emotional warmth and I felt like reaching into the screen, grabbing her by the shoulders and calling her a useless sap. The other characters were mostly stereotypes with Clarkson obviously on a sugar high for most of the proceedings and overacting throughout the entire proceedings. Her every movement was exaggerated and if I had a blowtorch I would have felt compelled to use it.

I came out of the cinema with more questions than answers. That can be a good thing in that it means it has maintained the attention. Or perhaps I am just grasping for straws….

Based on the book by the same name, and written by Penelope Fitzgerald in the ‘70’s, my favourite review reads:

The Bookshop ends up as a fine advertisement for its namesake. Buy the book and stay home.

– Graeme Tuckett, New Zealand

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