The Bookshop, based on the novel by Penelope Fitzgerald, written for the big screen and directed by Isabel Coixet
Penelope Fitzgerald is the outstanding author of the Man Booker Prize Winner Offshore and her novel that has been adapted for this motion picture has been itself short-listed for the same prestigious literary prize.
Therefore, it is to be expected that the film is noteworthy, especially if we also add the cast, which includes Emily Mortimer in the leading role of Florence Green, the aristocratic, effervescent Bill Nighy as Mr. Brundish and the gifted Patricia Clarkson as Mrs. Gamart
When considering the setting of a small, sleepy seaside town and the idea expressed in the title of The Bookshop, one could think that this is not going to be very exciting, there would be no adventures here, but passions run high and some astonishingly, amiable looking personages turn out to be just about as nasty as Lex Luthor.
The protagonist, Florence Green, decides to open a bookshop, in 1959, in Hardborough, England, where there has been no such outlet and even if it seems such a harmless, unadventurous idea, it turns out to be opposed vehemently, at least by some individuals that matter.
If the heroine is the good fairy, the Cinderella and/or Snow White of the Books World, Mrs. Gamart is the Cruella de Vil, the bad witch who will fight the Bookshop as if it was a whorehouse, a gambling outfit or even the den of mobsters and criminals.
Apart from the formidable adversary that will play any trick in the bad book and eventually cause the death of another good character in the story, there is the bank official who is not willing to support the protagonist in her endeavor and would actually start on a negative path and cause trouble along the way.
Mr. Keble who works for the bank and on top of his financial opinion is expressing other views and offers unsolicited, gratuitous advice, is called Potato Head by the local people.
Florence Green wants to establish her business in an old house and when she meets General Gamart, she mentions her project and the intention to bring first the classics, books that people want, by famous authors like Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope.
The General asks poetry, which the bookshop startup owner thinks would not be so much in demand, and when the interlocutor mentions a few lines from a poem and she does not recognize them…the old man walks away.
However, it is his wife that would play the role of the “Harpy” to quote the man who thinks she is such an evil, obnoxious, overbearing, negative influence in the area and who would ultimately die because of her, Mr. Edmund Brundish.
Bill Nighy plays this intriguing, complex, interesting character, in love with books, but apprehensive of people, indeed, so much so that he does not want to see the authors of the volumes he reads.
Edmund Brundish cuts out the photographs of the writers from the covers or the pages where they are printed- when and if they are- for he is so unwilling to see them and he says that:
Biographies should be about good people – at least this is what he wants to read, along with good novels- and he also has the view that good books are about bad people…
Milo North is another local personage of some interest to the narrative, ambivalent and ultimately treasonous, who offers some help and at one stage works with the protagonist at her bookshop, only to give access to unwanted guests, when she is absent from the premises.
He is the one who attracts the attention to Lolita- of which he says that Graham Greene has called a masterpiece, but others have condemned- and Florence sends this to find the opinion of Edmund Brundish.
Before this, Mr. Brundish had sent a messenger with a polite letter, asking for recommendations and the list of prices, wishing the local bookshop owner success and with this marking the “Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship” to quote Casablanca.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is one of the books sent to this book lover and he enjoys it so much that he asks for and starts reading other works by the same wonderful author, including The Martian Chronicles.
Edmund Brundish and Florence Green have much more in common than a love of good books, for the man had been a sort of pariah and in the town; gossip had him kill his wife who had supposedly been drowned.
In fact, the truth is that man and wife decided after six months of marriage, decades ago, that they should remain good friends – best was the word indeed- and she now lives in London, not dead at all, where she has gained a lot of weight, mostly because she loves sweets too much.
The attack on the bookshop is devious, perverse and sophisticated, for the enemy wants an “art center „and even has her nephew work on a law that would make it easy for the local counsel to take the old house away from the heroine and sent her out, after closing the shop.
A man dies trying to prevent this and to add insult to injury, the General comes to Florence green to say that the deceased had come to his wife to express support for the great idea of creating the “art center” and the protagonist, horrified and overwhelmed cries out to the man to get out and never come here again…
The Bookshop is a very good motion picture.