Movie review: The Bookshop

My wife enjoyed the film as “an elegant yet incisive rendering of personal resolve, tested in the battle for the soul of a community.”

My wife and I are probably the perfect demographic, a teacher and a librarian, for a movie such as The Bookshop. And note the protagonist’s surname. The story takes place in 1959 England, where a determined widow Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) decides to open a bookstore in a coastal town.

She does this with little help, save for a schoolgirl named Christine (Honor Kneafsey), and in spite of the keen opposition of Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), wife of a general (Reg Wilson). But she has a fan in Edmund Brundish, a reclusive book-loving widower (Bill Nighy), to whom she introduces the works of Ray Bradbury and Vladimir Nabokov.

There is also a slick, morally unmoored character Mr. Keble (Hunter Tremayne), who slithers in and out of scenes.

The Bookshop is based on Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel and directed by Isabel Coixet (Learning to Drive). I think my wife enjoyed the film as “an elegant yet incisive rendering of personal resolve, tested in the battle for the soul of a community.”

Alas, I found it rather bland and often lugubrious. Some critics believe it hewed too closely to the source material, which we had not read.

Moreover, the business librarian in me couldn’t understand why Florence was so determined to have a bookstore at all. “Is there a place for a bookshop in a town that may not want one?” Know your market, any business adviser would recommend. Nor could I really discern why Violet was so gung-ho for a community center in the venue instead.

That said, the film was a moderately interesting study of power dynamics, and how the system can be manipulated. And speaking of power, I always loved it when Nighy’s Edmund was on screen; he had a presence.

I can’t really recommend The Bookshop, but my wife would. As usual, we saw it at the Spectrum 8 in Albany.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. i hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

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