Review: The Book Shop (2017)

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The Book Shop (2017)

Directed by: Isabel Coixet | 110 minutes | drama | Actors: Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, Hunter Tremayne, Honor Kneafsey, James Lance, Frances Barber, Reg Wilson, Michael Fitzgerald, Lucy Beckwith, Nigel O’Neill, Jorge Suquet, Harvey Bennett, Lana O’Kell, Adie Allen , Lucy Tillett, Toby Gibson, Gary Piquer

In ‘The Bookshop’ the recently widowed Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) wants to give her life a new meaning. She moves to a small town in the English countryside. There she wants to use her love for books to open a bookshop and thus introduce the inhabitants to literature. At first sight a simple and noble goal, but for a woman alone in 1959 in a rigid village where everyone for himself mentality seems to rule quite a task. Florence’s dream only gets more complicated when it turns out that the wealthy, indifferent Mrs. Gamart (Patricia Clarkson) has a different destination for the old property in mind. Fortunately, Florence finds an ally in lonely widower Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy) and doesn’t have to fight her battle all alone.

In the fast-paced movie era where Hollywood storylines sometimes race past you in a hurry, ‘The Bookshop’ offers a nice old-fashioned counter-sound. Some viewers will therefore really have to adjust to a whole sitting to enjoy this film. The film offers a stillness that is not boring or annoying, but that stands out among the smooth films of today. ‘The Bookshop’ has an old-fashioned feel due to a plot without shocking twists that unfolds at a friendly snail’s pace.

Still, director Isabel Coixet does make some interesting choices. For example, a number of correspondences with Mr. Brundish portrayed almost theatrically. Brundish is a mystery to the villagers (and initially to us viewers), as he never speaks to anyone and is rarely seen outside the gates of his estate. A nice find is that he tells the written messages of his letters directly to the camera. In this refreshing and slightly comical way, we as viewers, together with Florence, get to know Mr. Brundish. It is a pity that this is not implemented in later correspondence with other characters.

Basically ‘The Bookshop’ together with its main character feels like an ode to the book and its shop. The problem is that that “feeling” leaves something to be desired. It is said several times that Florence has a passion for books, but somehow you don’t see or feel that passion as a viewer. Other bibliophiles such as Anne of Green Gables (from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s book of the same name) show a love for literature. That urge, that necessity, is somehow lacking in Florence. An authentic narration voice is used to tell us about that love and although this means really fits the book theme (and eventually turns out to belong to an interesting listener) this is not enough to make the love tangible. Also the whim of Mrs Gamart and the supporters she gathers to oppose Florence does not seem founded on a deeper thought. This ensures that there is no deepening of the story. Some emotion or compassion is evoked by the honest playing of Bill Nighy, who expresses his loneliness with Florence in a touching way. This also brings the most interesting scenes in the film.

‘The Bookshop’ is a quiet film, perfectly suited for a rainy Sunday afternoon. Despite the fact that some depth is missing and the characters remain somewhat on the surface, the classic feeling of an old-fashioned feature film remains. The slowness of the plot is not annoying, but it does require a little more effort to keep the attention from wandering.

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