The Bookshop, being released on Friday August 24 2018 in New York City and Los Angeles, is the perfect end of summer movie. For those who are worn out by the chaos of politics, heat, forrest fires, and blockbuster hits filled with explosions and car chases, a movie about books will be an oasis of calm in the midst of our current maelstrom.
Based on the novel of the same name by Penelope Fitzgerald, the movie tells the story of the widowed Florence Green’s (Emily Mortimer) attempt to open a book store in a small town in late 1950s England. Unfortunately she immediately runs afoul of the local gentry in the shape of Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson who wants to open a “cultural centre” in the building Green purchased.
While Green receives support from a couple of unlikely sources, local recluse Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighyand school girl Christine Gipping (Honor Kneafsey, we can tell right from the start she’s in for quite the battle if she wants to succeed. The idea that a single woman in 1959 would be able to run a business of any kind is an almost completely alien concept for any of the men she has to deal with – from her lawyer to her bank manager.
Viewers might initially wonder why she is so set on the idea of running a book store and what makes her forge ahead in spite of the fierce opposition. What we gradually realize over the course of the movie is the books and the store are her personal memorial to her late husband. Not only had they met in a bookshop, but books were part of their lives as he would read to her almost every night of their marriage.
One of the joys of this movie is the simple beauty of watching gifted actors performing. Mortimer and Nighy in particular are absolutely splendid as they give wonderfully crafted performances. It’s a joy to see actors who are not being forced to constantly do something, but simply be in the moment of a scene emotionally and physically. There is a depth to their work together which is hardly ever seen on the screen these days.
In the roles of the secondary, but important characters of Christine and Gamart, Kneafsey and Clarkson are equally skilled. Clarkson does a wonderful job of creating a character who is almost instantly repugnant with her manipulative behaviour and her superior attitude.
What I especially enjoyed about Kneafsey’s portrayal of Christine, was the intelligence and thoughtfulness she managed to bring to the character. She’s a keen observer of the people around her, including Mrs. Green who employs her as a shop assistant, and isn’t afraid of giving her opinions of their behaviour.
This film moves at a wonderfully slow pace allowing viewers to savour every moment. From the beautiful seascapes to the sound of the wind blowing through trees and marsh grasses, we are immersed in a scene’s environment and allowed to absorb the setting and its atmosphere. In fact the movie’s cinematography is universally excellent – from capturing the claustrophobic feel of a bank manager’s office to the way it exults in the area’s landscapes.
While there is a certain inevitability when it comes to the plot, like in all good books and movies, the pleasure comes in watching how it is told. Director/screenwriter Isabel Coixet and her cast have done a fantastic job in bringing this story to life. The Bookshop may be a movie about books, but its one of the most beautiful films you’ll see this year.
(Originally posted at Blogcritics.org as Movie Review: The Bookshop - Emily Mortimer & Bill Nighy
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.