1. Movies

'The Bookshop' has the feel of a book found collecting dust on a back shelf

Emily Mortimer as Florence Green in the film "The Bookshop." (Greenwich Entertainment)
Published Aug. 27, 2018

The Bookshop, director/writer Isabel Coixet's (Learning to Drive) adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald's 1978 novel, has the feel of a book found collecting dust on the back shelf of a closet. There's an expectation of great potential considering the lineage, but on closer examination the experience teeters on tedium so much it ends up a mystery of what the draw was in the first place.

A widow, Florence Green (Emily Mortimer), takes a major emotional and financial leap in 1959 to open a bookshop in the conservative coastal town of Hardborough, Suffolk. She opens her bookstore as a loving tribute to her dead husband.

Although her progressive thinking — powered by the writings of Vladimir Nabokov and Ray Bradbury — sends a ripple through the conservative community; that is not what attracts the immediate assault from Mrs. Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), the local grand dame who controls everything that happens in the city. She has her mind set on opening an art center in the building where Green has opened her bookstore and will use any means to obtain the use of the location. Green's only support comes from a reclusive widower (Bill Nighy) who has a passion for reading.

This unfolds in a production that is melancholy in mood, arthritic in movement and emotionally stagnant. It would have to find a major boost of energy just to be considered a worthy presentation on Masterpiece Theatre. The only saving grace are beautiful performance by Mortimer and Nighy.

All of this plays out through a style of filmmaking by Coixet that lacks any signs of passion. She's content to allow long conversations to unfold with a minimalistic use of camera movement. This isn't a story that requires grand visual gestures, but that doesn't mean the production looks like the crew was allowed to take a nap during filming.

Couple that with a story that springs from a very iffy beginning and never builds to any dramatic tensions and the results are forgettable. It starts with the animosity Gamart spreads through the small community coming across as forced. The obsession to take over the space need some background — especially with Gamart's character — to act as a foundation for the tale. There is such a thing as small-town politics, but even that has to spring from some logical place.

Along with a lack of structure for Gamart, Coixet shows a laziness with the character of Milo North (James Lance). It's never made clear if he is a con artists getting through life on his looks, a kept man willing to do any lapdog job or a man of so low morals he would rather see others fail just to make himself feel better. Coixet never writes, nor does Lance rise to the acting challenge, to make this character a viable player in this soft-shelled melodrama.

Part of the problem is that the film is based on a book and Coixet can only go so far before the adaptation becomes a completely different story. Her adherence to novel — particularly with an unsatisfying ending — doesn't bring a new visual life to what should be enjoyed as a written word.

Only Mortimer is able to rise above the echoes of emptiness to make Green an interesting character. She's a strong-willed woman at a time when that was not in vogue and a lover of the written word. Mortimer has such a compelling ability to act with her face that she get across several waves of deep emotions despite Coixet's comatose style of direction.

Their scenes together are limited, but when Mortimer and Nighy are together, there is such a strong connection between the players, they provide needed emotional lifts. Nighy continues to be a treasure bringing brilliance to each performance. Sadly, their time together is far too limited.

The Bookshop has a dusty feel to it as if the production has been languishing in mediocrity while waiting to be discovered. Except for a couple of strong performance, there is no reason to go in search of this work.


  1. Bill Skarsgard in the movie, "It". [Brooke Palmer, Warner Bros. Pictures] is offering to pay one approved applicant to track things such as their heart rate, jump scares and sleep patterns.
  2. "Rambo: Last Blood" stars Sylvester Stallone. YANA BLAJEVA  |  Lionsgate
    ‘Villains’ and ‘Ambition’ also open, plus Gigglewaters features ‘Mars Attacks!’ before the “storming” of Area 51.
  3. An image from the poster for Magnolia Pictures' documentary "Wrinkles the Clown." The film is set for an Oct. 4 release. Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
    The real-life creepy clown sightings phenomenon is back in a new movie. We talked to the director.
  4. Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Barbour, left, and Ansel Elgort as Theo Decker in "The Goldfinch." MACALL POLAY  |  Warner Bros. Pictures
    Plus, ‘Edie’ and ‘Freaks’ accompany a trio of local screenings.
  5. From left: Tim Curry as Frank N. Furter, Barry Bostwick as Brad Majors and Susan Sarandon as Janet Weiss in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." 20th Century Fox
    The popular ‘Last Podcast on the Left’ and Barry Bostwick from ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ are new to A Nightmare on Franklin Street.
  6. In this June 23 photo, Lizzo arrives at the BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. The rapper will take the stage at Yuengling Center in Tampa on Tuesday. RICHARD SHOTWELL  |  Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
    Lizzo continues her rein over 2019 with a Tampa concert, and the Lightning Fan Fest fuels Bolts fever.
  7. Disney's Aladdin comes to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts as part of the 2019-2020 Broadway series. Courtesy of Deen van Meer.
    From augmented reality at the Dalí to a boatload of Beethoven at the Florida Orchestra, it’s shaping up as another busy season in the arts.
  8. In 1960, black people could work behind lunch counters in downtown St. Petersburg, but any attempt to dine there immediately brought out 'This Section Closed' signs. Sit-ins led to the desegregation of public dining areas in 1961. Tampa Bay Times (1962)
    Plus, you can sing along to 'The Sound of Music’ at Tampa Theatre.
  9. Dusty is back in Disney's 2013 high-flying adventure "Planes: Fire & Rescue." Tampa International Airport will offer a free screening for families in its new event space on Saturday. Disney
    You can brush up on your Tarantino trivia for prizes in Clearwater, plus enjoy Florida Game Day at the Sulphur Springs Museum or Family Nerf Wars in Safety Harbor.
  10. Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in "It Chapter Two." Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
    Eckerd College also kicks off the fall edition of its International Cinema Series with the award-winning ‘Amazing Grace.’