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Read: The Bookshop is a beautiful film

In popular imagination, or at least in the British imagination, the English countryside with it’s small towns and villages, is the epitome of tranquility and social cohesion. A mythic land where only the good and moral live.

Of course in reality anywhere you find humans, you will find conflict and a myriad of vices.

What The Bookshop does so well is expose both the myth so beautifully. The year is 1959, and a demure widow (Florence Green, played by Emily Mortimer) settles in the little Suffolk town of Hardborough, principally to open up a bookshop.  Despite a warning from the town’s ferry captain that the town won’t like it, she presses ahead with her plans and moves into the Old House, an abandoned, damp and supposedly historic building.

The town is populated with a range of types – from the elite to the working glass, but one thing unites them all – gossip.

Despite being welcomed by the influential and rich Mrs Gamart (Patricia Clarkson) into the town, Emily soon discovers she is thwarting the old dames plans for the Old House. Initially the bookshop thrives, and Emily sets tongues wagging by selling the racy book Lolita. Slowly however she becomes aware of a conspiracy to oust her from her dwelling and shop.

From here on the action takes a more sinister turn. I don’t mean in a violent or gory way, but it shows the murkier side of human nature, the abuse of power and how people will betray one another often for no real reason.  As a microcosm of what happens in the wider world The Bookshop is a fascinating watch. Patricia Clarkson plays the village’s head villain with the perfect blend of charming manipulation and cold ruthlessness.

The character of Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy) is the imperfect antidote to the unpleasant side of humanity. He is a well-intentioned knight in shining armour, but his own scars and his obvious past with Mrs Gamart means he never quite achieves hero status. There is a clear frisson between he and Gamart yet they also harbour a strong antipathy that is never really explained. 

Emily Mortimer is well cast, and plays her character so well. Frances has courage, but she is also  demure and deeply uncomfortable with other people’s emotions – she seems to be that quintessential English person who never quite says what they think or want. Though at times she is quite determined, she often struggles to find her voice. When she is finally pushed to the wall and does vent the result is all the more powerful.

This is a beautiful film that is packed full action in a very restrained, English way. Best of all, it left me wanting more. I now need to read the novel to see if it explains what went on in this village before Frances Green came to it.

In cinemas 24th May 2018

The Bookshop

112 Minutes

Starring:  Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Bill Nighy

Directed by:   Isabel Coixet



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