“The Bookshop” is a gentle, quiet film, beautifully evocative of the musty, inviting smell of a bookshop on a cool day. The leisurely story gives us plenty of time to get lost in the actors’ faces. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.
If you, like me, are helpless in the wake of movies that involve bookstores, English villages, 1950s fashions and Bill Nighy having wistful realizations — well, my friend, have I got a movie for you. “The Bookshop,” written and directed by Isabel Coixet and based on Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel, winningly combines all of those things, and delivers them in a leisurely story that gives us plenty of time to get lost in her actors’ faces. When those actors are Nighy, Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson, it’s always time well spent.
Mortimer plays Florence Green, a young, rather idealistic widow who decides (against all advice) to open a bookshop in a small, conservative East Anglian town that quite possibly doesn’t want a bookshop, thank you very much. Nighy is her crusty neighbor — a straight line of a man who loves books, but not people — and Clarkson is a society matron opposed to the shop. These characters happen to hit the particular sweet spot for each of these actors, and there’s great pleasure in this movie in Mortimer’s giddy eruption of laughter when her bookshop sign is first hung, in watching how Nighy gazes at Mortimer as if she’s a book he’s suddenly realized he’s enjoying reading, and in hearing how Clarkson (who previously collaborated, to lovely effect, with Coixet in “Learning to Drive”) weaves silk with her voice.
“The Bookshop” is a gentle, quiet film in which not a whole lot happens; pretty much everything that’s dramatic happens over a cup of tea. But it’s beautifully evocative of the musty, inviting smell of a bookshop on a cool day, or of the nostalgic pleasure of old photographs (its colors are beautifully soft-worn). And who can resist a movie whose dialogue includes two universal truths: “Writers will go anywhere there is a free drink” and “No one ever feels alone in a bookshop”? Not me — and, quite possibly, not you.
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★★★½ “The Bookshop,” with Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson. Written and directed by Isabel Coixet, based on the novel by Penelope Fitzgerald. 113 minutes. Rated PG for some thematic elements, language, and brief smoking. Opens Aug. 31 at SIFF Cinema Uptown.