Period piece pokes around book’s periphery

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BOOK DELIVERY: Emily Mortimer plays Florence Green, a woman who decides to open a bookship in a small Suffolk town.

The Bookshop

  • Drama; Cert RPG, contains coarse language; 1hr 53mins
  • Starring: Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, Hunter Tremayne, Honor Kneafsey, James Lance, Frances Barber and Reg Wilson
  • Director: Isabel Coixet

WITH the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the end of food rationing, England of the 1950s was a place of change – but a literary backwater.

In The Bookshop, based on Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1978 novella of the same name, small town Britain is presented as endearingly stuffy, quaint and conservative. The film falls short of being the cautionary tale of the insidiousness of small town closed-mindedness and censorship as portrayed in the book.

Instead of being a provocative exposition of the class-consciousness of English society, the film is little more than the same watered-down cliche moviegoers have been subjected to when it comes to the portrayal of post-war Britain.

The story revolves around humble but headstrong widow Florence Green, played by Emily Mortimer (Hugo), who moves to the rural coastal town of Hardborough to open a bookshop.

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She decides to buy the old house that local arts-supporter Violet Gamart, played by Patricia Clarkson (The Maze Runner), thinks would be best used as the town’s new arts centre but was too slow to purchase. A simmering feud ensues.

Enter the one person in town who appreciates Florence’s bookshop – wealthy town hermit Edmund Brundish, played by Bill Nighy (Dad’s Army). A shut in, Edmund starts a letter-writing relationship with Florence as the bookshop owner mails off books to the man.

While the film touches on the works that were part of the literary revolution of the post-war years – the publication of 1984, Fahrenheit 451 and Lolita – the script does not delve into how these books were received nor how they helped change the consciousness of a world dealing with the after-effects of the planet’s most destructive military conflict.

In all, this uninspired adaptation by Catalan director Isabel Coixet (Learning to Drive) lacks the subversive undercurrent of the novel while dumping a heaped helping of charm on a film that should challenge the status quo, not gaze upon it lovingly.

6/10