The Bookshop follows Florence (Emily Mortimer), a widow who decides to open a bookshop in the small coastal town of Hardborough. But despite her kind and innocent intentions, she’s met with a seemingly sadistic opposition by the aristocratic Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), who would prefer the building Florence occupies to be an arts centre. Florence struggles with the business of running a bookshop, but finds loyalty in Mr Brundish (Bill Nighy), an old ominous figure who lives solitarily in his bleak house.
It’s a literary-based, costume fantasy that’s rarely intruded upon by the real world – and this is the perfect approach. Often films with a similar setting, like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, have brutal realities in battle with romantic fantasy – insulting the former and eroding the latter. The Bookshop gives itself over to this kind of fantasy. The story is nonsense, but it’s beautiful nonsense.
Coixet’s dialogue shines – there’s a richness to it, as if out of a fairytale. It’s most obvious in the narration (“sometimes all four seasons can be present in a single morning”), appropriately voiced by Julie Christie who previously starred in a string of literary adaptations like Fahrenheit 451 and Far From the Madding Crowd. But the moments between Florence and the awkward Mr Brundish are the best in the film, with Nighy never falling into the usual rom-com impersonation of himself. It’s his best performance in years, capturing in his withered face a barrier to a deeply felt emotional core.
But the film doesn’t delve deep enough into the conflicts that Florence has to face. We learn, as if by accident, that the shop isn’t doing good enough business. There’s no apparent controversy when Florence decides to put Lolita on her shelves, which hardly reflects the views of the time (and even now). And although her difficult position as a female widower during a more patriarchal time is suggested, it’s never fleshed out to its full potential.
The Bookshop has its problems, and it’s certainly not for everyone, but there’s a constant if unrealistic charm to the story and its characters. The ending is particularly silly, but it’s suited to its environment. If nothing else, it’ll make you want to race out your front door and head straight for the nearest bookshop.
|What||The Bookshop film review|
29 Jun 18 – 28 Jun 19, TIMES VARY
|Price||£ determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more information|