Film adaptations can spring from the most intriguing sources. Some adaptations are from relatively normal sources e.g. the Lord of the Rings trilogy adapted from the book trilogy of the same name. Other films spring from slightly more unconventional places including The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise being based on a ride at Disneyland and the Bridget Jones’ Diary films being based on a series of fictional newspaper columns by Helen Fielding. A lot will be changed in adaptation – after all, film is a very unique visual medium that is contrastly different from both tv and books. Changes are necessary to make an adaptation work regardless of how some “pure” fans of the original material may feel about it. Without appropriate adjustments to fit the new medium, an adaptation can fall flat on its face. Does The Bookshop manage through adaptation?
The Bookshop is based on a novel by Penelope Fitzgerald. It follows the plight of Mrs Florence Green (played by Emily Mortimer) who opens a bookshop in a remote Suffolk village in 1959. She faces a lot of opposition in the 1950s version of Regina George named Mrs Gamart (played by Patricia Clarkson) and near complicit uselessness from the rest of the village with the exception of Green’s young assistant Christine (played by Honor Kneafsey) and the reclusive bibliophile Edmund Brundish (played by Bill Nighy). Such a premise makes the film seem rather interesting if not a little dainty with a hint towards character development over plot. The adaptation is remarkably faithful to the source material but perhaps it is too faithful. The film feels like a direct retelling of a book complete with a meandering pace akin to a reading binge. This may be appealing to some audiences but for me it had the effect of making it difficult to keep my interest. As someone who likes to read books in chunks over time as opposed to binge reading, watching a film like this was more difficult than it was worth. As time went on my desire to care ebbed away.
The plot of the film and the ending was somewhat predictable which didn’t make watching it all that endearing. It’s a shame considering how well the parts are acted. Mortimer and Kneafsey in particular shone in their parts as the lonely widow and the bright child entirely indifferent to books. Their relationship on screen was one of the only enjoyable aspects of the whole film as well as the occasional appearance of Nighy’s Brundish. On a techincal stand point, the cinematography was rather beautiful and the use of certain colours were absolutely astounding. The use of darkness with the peppering of muted colours such as green and yellow were effective in creating an atmosphere plagued with a sense of psychological iniquity. The film felt very engrossed in its time period complete with unsure social norms and post-War bitterness. If nothing else The Bookshop was effective at placing you in the time.
Slow and unfortunately dull, this is a film I can only reasonably recommend to fans of Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop novel or folks who need a film to put their children to sleep.
Dir: Isabel Coixet
Scr: Isabel Coixet
Cast: Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, Honor Kneafsey
Prd: Jaume Banacolc, Joan Bas, Adolfo Blanco, Chris Curling
DoP: Jean-Claude Larrieau
Music: Alfonso de Vilallonga
Run time: 113 mins
The Bookshop is available on DVD now.