Prolific Spanish film-director, Isabel Coixet has taken a terribly English book and turned it into a terribly English film, thereby winning a swag of Spanish awards.What a great time to be alive!
Based on Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel of the same name, The Bookshop tells the story of Florence Green, widowed at a young age, living alone in a small, English, sea-side village in 1959. She decides to acquire a property known as “the old house” and turn it into a bookshop; a seemingly benign act which causes ructions as small-town rivalry and status games make her life increasingly difficult.
The divine Emily Mortimer is perfect as Florence, and there is a gentle, very English chemistry between her and veteran Bill Nighy, who plays Mr Brundish, the local eccentric hermit who befriends her. Florence’s nemesis, Violet Gamart is masterfully brought to life by Patricia Clarkson, who has worked with Coixet on two previous features. The stand-out performance of the film is from thirteen-year-old Honor Kneafsey, as Christine. James Lance also gives good value as local bounder, Milo.
Shot mostly in Ireland, the art department made the most of the location. Production design by LLorenc Miquel, art direction by Marc Pou and set decoration by Rebeca Comerma all deserve accolades. Comerma’s attention to detail in the dressing of a 1959 bookshop is one of the joys of this film. It is a book-lovers delight!
Coixet’s screenplay is a master-class in the screen adaptation of a novel; one can sense scenes that, in the book, would have been descriptive passages. The narrative stance is strong, with the use of the grown-up Christine’s voice-overs, as she reminisces. It is easy to see why the screenplay won the Frankfurt Book Fair award for adaptation.
But don’t be fooled by the Englishness and gentleness: this is an intense, strong and somewhat harrowing tale. It is a homage to those women who had to fight, not just for a seat at the table, but for entry into the room.
It is also a love-letter to books, readers and bookshops.
The Bookshop screens as part of the APIA Young at Heart Film Festival at Palace Nova Eastend and Prospect.
Check screening times here.