The Bookshop (aka La Librería) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Bookshop is the kind of calm and cozy drama that always feels to find that right balance of strife and warmth to be somewhat soothing. There’s contention within its premise for a struggling bookstore of the 1950s. There’s charm with how the owner hires a plucky young girl to help her. There’s sweetness within a kindship that the owner forms with a societal shut-in. And through it all, books are what bring it all together, making this mildly quirky picture worthy of a watch.
Emily Mortimer plays Florence Green, a recent widow who had decided to open up a bookshop in the coast town of Hardborough. She buys up an old house and sets to work transforming it into her own business. It’s not going to be easy though. The town isn’t much for books. She speaks with a boatman who relays her this information and admits that he’s not much for reading. Even when Florence can find some people who like reading, she can’t attract the right crowd. A stuffy intellectual boasts about how much he loves poetry and when Florence doesn’t get his reference, he quietly shuffles away.
It’s a tough town especially when some of the residents are hoping to have Florence evicted. Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson) wants to see her go most of all as she has a desire to turn the old house into an arts center. Still, her shop makes progress. She soon attracts the attention of Christine (Honor Kneafsey), a girl so determined to work despite her age and that she doesn’t much care for reading. She also makes friends with isolated recluse Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy). Though Edmund begins the film hating books by ripping them up and burning the contents, he soon warms up to them in a different way with Florence’s shop. It isn’t long before he’s obsessed with Ray Bradbury and can’t wait for another book. Edmund and Florence soon meet at his big and empty estate and their exchange is pretty adorable.
Bookshop has a few moments of rebelliousness and passionate rage for being down on your luck. Florence, Christine and Edmund become such unjustly scorned social misfits of the town that when a tragedy befalls one of them there’s a bitter shove for the world being so cold. The cast really works well here, where Mortimer is a darling in the face of an uphill struggle while Nighy has his gentle charms. Even Kneafsey deserves some credit for giving some stern curiosity to her role. The only role that becomes distracting is Patricia Clarkson putting on the appearance of an English woman in a manner that reminds me more of those old Hollywood films where white American actors would try to play any international role.
Bookshop never fully comes out of its shell with its drama and there’s something both frustrating and appealing about this aspect. There’s a calmness to a picture where one woman struggles against a town that wants to kick her out and are prepared to do so with a government bill. Perhaps it’s just the environment. The coastal town seems so cozy in its dreary wonderment that it’s the perfect weather to snuggle up indoors with a good book. Mildly amusing gags of old men picking up books on women’s fitness and Nighy confused by being a copy of Fahrenheit 451 make for the easiest of smiles in a picture that never feels in a rush to get anywhere all that fast. There’s just something so oddly pleasing about a picture like that seems to settle itself within its own fascination of books and outsiders.