Florence Green's (Emily Mortimer) lifelong dream has always been to open a bookshop, but even she has no clue how difficult that will be in a small town in England, circa 1959. A widow of 16 years who has immersed herself into the land of classic novels such as The Martian Chronicles to help with the pain, Florence sees a small East Anglian town lacking books as an opportunity. She soon realizes that the pains of local town folks and upper class women such as Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson) and Milo (James Lance) will test her will to reach her goal.
Based off Penelope Fitzgerald's best selling novel of the same name, Writer/Director Isabel Cloixet's The Bookshop tries to install a passion into Florence's story, but the sluggish material doesn't grab the viewer's attention from the start. I can assure you that the first 45 minutes will feel like 90 due to the pacing and slow-moving story. Florence runs into a myriad of problems with opening her bookshop, concluding in a power struggle with Gamart and her many friends who hold a grudge against books for some reason.
Through her trials and tribulations, Florence finds a kindred spirit in Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy), a reclusive widow who shares her love for authors like Ray Bradbury. The two bond over Bradbury's Dandelion Wine and see through the white noise that the community is causing with such an innocent endeavor. Both of them are damaged souls looking for a sense of peace and escape, both of which they find in the stories located between the hard cover novels sold in Florence's book store.
Cloixet's movie isn't a particularly bad one, but I also don't find it to be that good either. You have a group of capable actors, and Mortimer and Nighy do share some lovely scenes together in scenes that move at their own pace. But the entire movie is one long slow-moving scene, and that starts to wear on even the most relaxed moviegoer. I didn't go into the film wanting explosions and loud sex, but I wanted some traction in the plot.
When Florence orders 250 copies of the popular yet controversial novel, Lolita, the town goes up in arms and expedites their rift with Florence and her shop. In a late tense scene, Edmund goes head to head with Violet, and the woman can't give the man a concrete reason why the shop is a bad idea. It's a movie without villains or any real initiative. A book that correlated better on the page inside one's head than on the big screen in live action.
In the late 1950's and early 60's, people in England were hesitant to get close to rebellious material, and that included books with any edge and bands like the Rolling Stones. Fragility and narrow-minded souls derailed the enjoyment of some of the greatest storytellers the world has ever seen. Before long, the banks and fellow businesses are coming together against Florence, and I couldn't help but shake my head. There's a credible story and moral to Fitzgerald's work, but the movie simply doesn't find the torch to light the fire underneath it. There's no sizzle here.
The movie is a series of close-up shots of long faces, moody expressions, and general sadness. When Florence and Edmund share a laugh midway through the film, they do so like they are criminals on the run from happiness. That could have been the way things were back then, and if so, I don't want any part of that world. It is that blockage that keeps me from truly attaching myself to this story. Everyone is so cold and calculated that it never connects.
The Bookshop isn't a waste of time, but I couldn't tell you to drop $12 on this flick in a theater, unless you wanted a good-looking sleeping aid to take hold of you for a couple hours. Mortimer, Nighy, and Clarkson are capable actors, but even they struggle to find their way around this depressing tale.
The book must be better, or at least move at a faster pace. Like any great book, a movie's main goal is to grab your attention early and hold onto it. The Bookshop has a passionate ambition, but it doesn't figure out how to get a viewer to invest in it's story. Green's motto was you'll never feel alone in a bookshop, but the problem is you may soon feel tired if you grab a dull book.
Sweet yet sluggish, it's best kept for the clearance rack, aka Redbox.