Film Review: The Bookshop

Contrary to what Twitter trolls want you to believe, it is not a terrible thing to have a difference of opinion; in fact, it makes for a rich, nuanced experience of life… which is why we’re not disheartened by two wildly varying views in our team on the new film The Bookshop. Tania O’Donnell reviews.

Pawan, our beauty editor, and myself went recently to a screening of The Bookshop, a new film based on the novel by Penelope Fitzgerald. Set in the 1950s, the plot revolves around a young widow, Florence Green (played by Emily Mortimer), and her resolve to open a bookshop in a serene, English seaside town. The venture suffers opposition from the local dragon lady Mrs Gamart (played by glamorous Patricia Clarkson) and her coterie of charming villains. The Lovely Bill Nighy (his official name) stars as Florence’s knight-in-book-buying-armour who lives in a dilapidated grand house and has her over for tea.

If only all villains were this well-dressed.

Pawan, alas, hated the film. She disliked what she thought was hammy acting and wasn’t keen on the lack of a swashbuckling plot. I suspect she was also not very keen on the slightly art-house feel to the film. I, on the other hand, loved it. There is no doubt that this is a quiet film in which not much happens; you see flashbacks to the husband Florence loved through gossamer filters and the scenery is its own character. To be honest, I almost didn’t want what plot there was to be there. I would have been happier with no Mrs Gamart and just a couple of hours of Bill and Emily’s characters having tea, discussing books and going for walks by the sea. The inevitable tensions were a sort of black mark on the happy, uplifting film it might have been.

Isn’t this how everyone unpacks books?

Nevertheless, this film will be a huge pleasure for book-lovers. The wide horizons of the coastal scenery, the lovely little in-jokes about reading preferences, and Bill Nighy’s typically perfect acting makes for a delightful, comfortable viewing experience. It is a film that stays with you and reminds you of the books you’ve yet to read. It is a love letter to bookshops and quietly advocates the cause of small, independent bookshops run by booksellers who love reading themselves.

Sigh. To own a bookshop of one’s very own.

The Bookshop is released nationwide today.