A Brief Commentary and Review of
A film written and directed by: Isabel Coixet
Based on Booker Prize winning novelist Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel The Bookshop
by John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Director
“A good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, Embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life, and as such it must surely be a necessary commodity.” - Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop
Bookshops come and go. These days they mostly disappear, like a quaint wisp of a dear memory or puff of smoke. That’s the familiar backdrop behind Isabel Coixet’s film by the same name, The Bookshop.
Not long ago in our own community, one independent bookshop (Bonaza) surrendered to an online monolith another still remains half-hidden in a downtown side street (thank you, Swan’s Fine Books), and a competing large chain closed it’s local store; to be replaced (somewhat ironically) by an upscale store named after the curious study of what makes humans behave the way they do (Anthropologie). Meanwhile, two blocks away, Amazon has opened its own brick and mortar bookshop.
The larger theme behind “The Bookshop” -- which the filmmaker herself describes -- is an allegorical tale familiar to us all in all its many guises; where the resilience and gumption of any underdog is pitted against entrenched and formidable powers, who will use any means at their disposal to quash the dreams and passions of the upstart interloper.
More than a half-century ago in a provincial post-war English village a woman’s empowerment movement is depicted in the film as being already well-entrenched in a malevolent sort of way; with a grand dame -- in this case, Mrs. Gamart (Patricia Clarkson) -- who wields her singular will as to what kind of art and culture should enhance local life. When the young and comely Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) overcomes all the initial obstacles she faces, in order to open her bookshop, the usual assortment of oddball characters enter the story to add color to a familiar tableau.
A reclusive presumed widower is drawn out from behind his drab stack of books and given a fresh reawakening of both new literary works (Ray Bradbury); along with the fresh young face of kindness, who kindles a spark of human connection. (Whether the book store owner stocking her display window with a just-published Lolita contributed to any smoldering emotions can be left up to the viewer.)
And then there’s the young girl (and subsequent narrator of this tale), who initially has no use for the as-yet undiscovered riches that might lie behind the cover of a book; until the empathic bookshop owner sparks in her a flame that will ultimately vindicate dreams and ideals in the face of the grand dame’s hollow victory.
In the end, “The Bookshop” is simply a sweet English melodrama with a wonderful cast of characters.