Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson
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The Bookshop is a bit of a slow burner…
Based on a novel by Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop is set in 1959, in the fictional – and very photogenic –little English coastal town of Hardborough. It seems at first to be rather too cozy and goody-goody.
The central character, front and centre in almost every scene, is Florence Green (Emily Mortimer), a widow of seven years, who wakes up one morning with the dream of opening a bookshop. Mortimer acts well, almost too well in the sense of possibly overdoing the nuances, but is generally convincing.
Somewhat more problematic and limiting is the fact that all the other characters are instantly definable: we recognise almost on sight who is plucky, noble, obnoxious, lonely, devious, etc. In the admirable corner is Mr. Brundish (Bill Nighy), an intriguing widower whose wife allegedly drowned decades ago, and who – on the rare occasions when he engages with anyone – comes out with shrewd utterances like “Understanding makes the mind lazy”. Unfortunately, there are other individuals in the town – notably the unpleasant Mrs. Gamart (Patricia Clarkson) – who are hellbent on sabotaging Florence’s chances of keeping the bookshop open.
The Bookshop is a bit of a slow burner. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it does get you in, and has subtle strengths which are not initially apparent. There’s a specific pleasure too in looking at all the old books and – in these ‘post-literate’ times – savouring the literary allusions and the story’s bibliophile theme. After some plodding the evolving plot becomes moderately clever – and there’s a great ending.