Set in a small town in 1959 England, it is the story of a woman who decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop, a decision which becomes a political minefield.
Director: Isabel Coixet
Writers: Isabel Coixet (screenplay), Penelope Fitzgerald (novel)
Stars: Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson
Restrained and tender adaptation of the acclaimed novel, starring Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy
Penelope Fitzgerald’s Booker-shortlisted novel The Bookshop gets a loyal adaptation from Spanish writer-director Isabel Coixet. It’s a film that celebrates love and literature; underneath what feels like just another quaint English period tale beats a subversive heart.
A perfectly cast Emily Mortimer plays Florence Green, a war widow who arrives in a 1950s Suffolk seaside town to open up a bookshop and stir the staid lives of the locals. Florence’s enterprise brings her in direct conflict with Violet (Patricia Clarkson), a socialite who has designs on the property, wanting to turn it into an arts centre. Moreover, Florence’s choice of books sets tongues ablaze, not least when she stocks Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial Lolita, a text even she’s uncertain of.
Her one supporter comes in the shape of Edmund (Bill Nighy), a widower himself and a virtual recluse. After they begin corresponding, Florence starts sending him books to sample, including Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Gradually their friendship grows; they are two lonely souls whose passions bubble irrespective of the repressive society they find themselves in.
Coixet handles their burgeoning not-quite romance with real tenderness. Like a modern-day Brief Encounter, it’s a film of unspoken sentiment contained within glances and gestures that, thankfully, never descends into mawkishness. A scene on a windswept beach where Edmund takes Florence’s hand and kisses it intensely is liable to swell Nighy’s pin-up status amongst more discerning / mature viewers.
Clarkson, for whom this marks her third collaboration with Coixet after Elegy and Learning to Drive, keeps her villainy reasonably in check, preventing Violet from becoming overly moustache-twirling. With neat support from James Lance as a cad also on the periphery of Florence’s life, Coixet blends a handful of fine ingredients. Restrained, but never overly so, The Bookshop deserves plenty of custom.
– James Mottram, The List