“The Bookshop” — Movie Review
“She told me once, when we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the books are like a roof and four walls. A house. She, more than anything else in the world, loved the moment when you finished a book and the story keeps playing like the most vivid dream, in your head.” Thus starts the remarkably charming movie, “The Bookshop,” from the novel by British author Penelope Fitzgerald. I loved everything about this movie.
Set in 1950’s England, the film stars Emily Mortimer, who wears Wellingtons with a dress as well as any actress working today. An intrepid entrepreneur, widow Florence Green sets out to achieve her life’s passion: opening a bookshop in a conservative seaside village. She is assisted by several likable residents, the reclusive intellectual Mr. Brundish, played sensitively by Bill Nighy, and a quirky, underage shop girl, played by the talented actress who plays the young “Elizabeth” in “The Crown.”
Florence Green’s dreams come true, but are quickly invaded by the local Queen Bee, Mrs. Gammet, played stiffly by Patricia Clarkson. This viper in silk soon starts a series of problematic rumors designed to squash the new enterprise — but Mrs. Green squashes them under the heel of her Wellies and proceeds to open “The Old House Bookshop.” It all unfolds, organically, into a world I would very much like to inhabit, myself, on a rainy day in coastal England.
Eventually, as I had hoped, we see a sweet spark of attraction between Mrs. Green and Mr. Brundish, whom she enlists to assist her in making a fateful decision: whether to carry Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (published in 1955). It’s not hard to imagine how the Queen Bee and her nefarious hangers-on will use this occurrence, and other behind-the-scenes manipulations, to bring down the young widow and shutter the popular bookshop.
Although following the intrigue was entertaining, I kept wanting to nudge the movie ahead, hoping to see the love story between Mrs. Green and Mr. Brundish develop. The chemistry between them is my favorite kind to watch: the slowly unfolding story, the intuitive knowledge that allows them to speak freely to each other, even though they don’t know each other well. And it’s completely believable, almost as if they’re two kindred souls, stranded among strangers who speak a different language.
Who couldn’t love a man who would say, “I will speak to her, and put an end to this loathsome harassment. Or, I could just put a bullet through her,” eliciting a laugh, as he intended. And then … on a stormy beach, she takes a chance and moves ever so slowly towards him, shyly touches his hand. And then … he seizes the moment and brings it to his lips …
My God, why don’t they make movies like this anymore? There’s hardly anything more soul-pleasing than the slow burn. I’ll probably watch that scene again and again.
Emily Mortimer’s Florence Green speaks soliloquies with her face alone. But I also love the way she follows the rules of proper British etiquette, never raising her voice, even as she says, “Oh, do shut up” to the odious Mr. North.
It’s every woman’s dream when the hero does the right thing, without hesitation: Bill Nighy’s Mr. Brundish comes to Florence’s rescue with a clear directive to the malicious Mrs. Gammet, “No, I don’t want your tea, I want you to leave Florence Green alone. Alone!” When that doesn’t appear to do the trick, we’re left wondering what else he has up his sleeve. But it isn’t to be.
There are so many special touches in this movie: her scarf in his pocket, their heart-rending glances, the young shop girl’s side-eye as she warns, “I’ve got my eye on you.” It seems I’ll have to watch it again on a rainy day, preferably with thunder in the distance. All the gloomy castles and country houses will come alive, with their Agga stoves, and the constant pouring of tea. And the ending? I did not expect that.
“The Bookshop” is not only about love. It is about courage. And, it’s about the fact that, truly, “no one ever feels alone in a bookshop.”
This unexpectedly charming movie is now streaming on Amazon Prime. Highly recommended. From the book The Bookshop, by Penelope Fitzgerald, Mariner Books, 1997.