Film Review: THE BOOKSHOP (Spain/UK 2017) ***

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The Bookshop Poster

England 1959. In a small East Anglian town, Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop.


Isabel Coixet


Isabel Coixet (screenplay), Penelope Fitzgerald (novel)


The underdog trying to keep his or her land against insurmountable odds like high authority and the government has been a solid premise for films.  Two routes may be taken – the comedy or drama.  One of the most successful Australian films THE CASTLE saw a country bumpkin fighting to keep his house (a castle is a man’s home) from being taken way to build an airport runway.  In best selling novel adapted into the film THE BOOKSHOP, a widowed woman attempts to fulfil her dreams be opening a bookshop in a small English town which the town wants to take away from her.

Though looking quite the ordinary film Isabel Coixtet’s THE BOOKSHOP , based on Penelope Fitzgerald’s acclaimed novel arrives in Toronto of a special engagement run after winning 3 prestigious Goya Awards including Best Film and Best Director. Director Coixtet is Spanish.  The film stars Patricia Clarkson as the ‘baddie’ who has previously worked with Coixtet in LEARNING TO DRIVE as well as stars Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy.

This is the second British film this year to tout reading books in a period setting, the other being the yet to be released Mike Newell’s THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY.  Both films involve the rendering of personal resolve, tested in the battle for the soul of a community.

The setting is England, 1959.  Free-spirited widow Florence Green aka Mrs. Green (Emily Mortimer) risks everything to open a bookshop in a conservative East Anglian coastal town.  While bringing about a surprising cultural awakening through works by Ray Bradbury and Vladimir Nabokov (who wrote the controversial LOLITA which Mrs. Green intends to promote and sell in the bookshop), she earns the polite but ruthless opposition of a local grand dame (Patricia Clarkson) and the support and affection of a reclusive book loving widower (Bill Nighy).   As Florence’s obstacles amass and bear suspicious signs of a local power struggle, she is forced to ask: is there a place for a bookshop in a town that may not want one?   

Coixtet’s film unfolds at such a leisurely pace, it might turn out too slow for some audiences (just as people might nod off during reading a book, as one character in the film says). .  She spends a good third of the film introducing the film’s main characters.  Clarkson is only seen for a few minutes during the first half the the film and Nighy only speaks after a third of the film.  

Based on a book by a female author and directed and starring a female, the film naturally extols female independence.  Unfortunately, the film falls into the familiar trap of containing weak or dislikable male characters, the exception being the Bill Nighy character despite revealed of a timid nature.   All other male characters like the General (the grand dame’s husband), Mr. North and Mr’s Green’s solicitor are all spineless detestable beings.

THE BOOKSHOP opens Aug 24th, but being British and already released n Europe, is also readily available on disks through Amazon and other similar platforms.


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