January 20, 2022

Film Interview: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen


Salmon Fishing in the Yemen scribe, Simon Beaufoy, shares his thoughts on the writing process.


Film Interview: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Simon Beaufoy, screenwriter of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, says the book gave him the space to create in-depth characters.

On his way to finishing up a quick jaunt to the states and, similarly, a glass of wine, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy is tired but in great spirits. Restlessness seems to define the Academy Award-winner as he has become arguably the busiest screenwriter on the planet.

In what has already been a full year, Beaufoy is currently working on a stage adaptation of his breakthrough, The Full Monty; a film adaptation of The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall; and just landed the perilous but awesome job of scribing the follow-up to The Hunger Games, Catching Fire.

Penning stage plays and major blockbusters is the goal of any working writer but what Beaufoy does best is to capture the seemingly random moments of minutia in life that end up being defining moments of humanity. The screenwriter’s latest work, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, does exactly that.

“What made Salmon Fishing in the Yemen for me in the first place was the book was completely epistolary. It was funny and smart and so well written but allowed me the space to create depth for the characters,” said Beaufoy.

The novel of the same title was written by Paul Torday and won the 2007 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize and the Waverton Good Read Award in 2008. Through a series of letters and documents, Torday tells a political satire that focuses more on the art of political spin than the force of the human spirit.

While Torday’s novel and Beaufoy’s screenplay share the same title and cast of characters, the two pieces are decidedly different.

“The film is not about fishing at all,” jokes the screenwriter. “It’s about what comes with it when a man decides to change direction in his life.”

Changing direction is part of the job description when it comes to adapting screenplays. Writers walk a fine line between staying true to the source material while adding new wrinkles and elements that allow the screenwriter to leave his own mark.

“There is truly something about the art of adapting a novel to a film,” said Beaufoy. “I spoke with Paul [Torday] about what he liked and what he didn’t like and told him that I would keep the spirit of the book intact but beyond that, when it comes to characters and development, that’s free rein.”

For example, Ewan McGregor’s character, Fred Jones, is noticeably older in the book than in the film with the romantic subplot with Harriet Chetwoode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) far in the background because of the political satire. By reducing Jones’ age and giving him Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, Beaufoy added a quirky flair to the character that gives the audience a completely different experience in watching a man overcome himself to achieve happiness.

“That’s the difference when reading the book. You can perceive specific conflicts but when it’s onscreen you have to create something different, something the audience can see and feel and root for,” stated Beaufoy.

While the jury may be out on the debate about which is better between the novel versus the film, it doesn’t matter to Simon Beaufoy. All he wants to do is tell a good story.

“This story is about being against all odds, and despite that, still going forward. That’s what I like writing about.”

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is currently in limited release.

J.P. Spence is a film critic for the Topanga Messenger. He previously served as Editor in Chief for the Los Angeles Valley Star, where under his tenure, the paper received the prestigious JACC Pacesetter Award. Spence is a five time JACC award winner and currently writes for thereviewrevue.com.