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With: Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Bill Nighy, Honor Kneafsey, James Lance, Harvey Bennett, Michael Fitzgerald, Jorge Suquet, Hunter Tremayne, Frances Barber, Gary Piquer, Lucy Tillett, Lana O'Kell, Nigel O'Neill, Toby Gibson, Charlotte Vega, Mary O'Driscoll, Karen Ardiff, Rachel Gadd, Richard Felix, Barry Barnes, Nick Devlin
Written by: Isabel Coixet, based on a novel by Penelope Fitzgerald
Directed by: Isabel Coixet
MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements, language, and brief smoking
Running Time: 113
Date: 08/31/2018

The Bookshop (2018)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Page Spurners

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Isabel Coixet's The Bookshop, which is based on a 1978 novel by Penelope Fitzgerald, might seem like a simple, sweet tale in which two outsiders bond over their love for books, not unlike the charming 84 Charing Cross Road. But the actual film is both more complex and clumsier.

A widow, Florence Green (Emily Mortimer), decides to buy an abandoned old house in a seaside town in Suffolk and turn it into a bookshop. It's 1959, and her most loyal customer becomes Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy), a solitary shut-in who loves books and asks her to send anything along that she thinks he will like. She sends Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and it causes him to open up a little. Then Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita comes out and Florence runs it by Edmund; should she try selling such a controversial book in such a small town? She does, and it's a hit, selling like hotcakes.

The problem with this movie is a third character, Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), a nasty, conservative lady who hates Florence because she represents change, and uses all her power to bring down the bookshop. Though Clarkson is one of our best, she can't find an interesting way to play the role and simply comes across as pinched and repressed. She's not a slapstick or over-the-top villainess, and the subplot is subtler than it might have been, but it's still quite depressing.

Coixet is a skilled filmmaker and usually manages to go a little deeper to find the souls of her characters in films like My Life Without Me, Elegy, and Learning to Drive. But The Bookshop feels more like an uneasy mix of her good work and someone else's shoddy work. The movie's overall grayish look and uneven pacing don't help. In other words, it's not exactly a cover-to-cover experience; it's more like losing one's place and not wanting to go back.

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