Thursday, August 30, 2018

A small but intriguing 'Bookshop'

It has taken some time, but Penelope Fitzgerald's 1978 novel, The Bookshop, finally has made it to the screen. Spanish director Isabel Coixet (Learning to Drive) casts Emily Mortimer as a widower who opens a bookstore in an English shore town in 1959. The town's establishment -- led by the smiling but arch-tempered Violet (Patricia Clarkson) -- opposes the shop. Violet wants to see the house where Mortimer's Florence opens her bookstore converted into a local arts center. A reclusive resident (Bill Nighy) emerges as Florence's principal customer. In a role that mixes humor with deep sadness, Nighy creates a memorable portrait of a man whose life is steeped in regret. Mortimer handles her role with pluck and intelligence. Honor Kneafsey appears as the opinionated schoolgirl who earns after-school money as Florence's helper. Florence's support for Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita further annoys Violet, reminding us how controversial that novel was when first published. The Bookshop pays the expected homage to writing, reading and literature, but avoids the trap of becoming a celebration of one woman's dream. Instead, Coixet enfolds the story in a series of betrayals and power moves, all presented without undue melodrama. It may be slightly pejorative to call The Bookshop a little movie, but the label fits; it's small like the seaside town in which its set, but it's far from idyllic in outlook -- and that's its saving grace.

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