The Bookshop is an odd little film. The slow-moving drama stars Emily Mortimer as a war widow who sinks everything she has into a bookshop in a quaint English village in the late 1950’s, and the great Bill Nighy as a recluse who becomes an important customer and the young woman’s great defender. Mortimer runs afoul of the town’s wealthy and entitled self-appointed patron of the arts, an insufferable woman who proceeds to sabotage the bookstore in every way imaginable.
Nature plays the backdrop here: oddly menacing winds, a severe and rocky shoreline, dripping rain. There is no hint that the sun will come out tomorrow, and indeed it does not.
The film ends on two strange notes of violence, one expected and one not. The bookshop fails, as even the efforts of Bill Nighy to leave the chosen isolation of his run-down home to confront the doyenne are not enough. And, the young girl who worked for Emily Mortimer after school and is far smarter and more above-board than either of her clod-like parents, sets fire to the empty store. The space, if not a bookshop, will at least never become the arts center that the wealthy patron had in mind.
I don’t usually telegraph such key scenes because I don’t like to spoil the film for those of you who might go see it, but in this case I’m not going to recommend that you go. One of the reviews said that you need to see the film twice to really grasp its subtlety, but frankly I can’t imagine. I love small independent bookstores and lament their passing, even as I use Amazon to order books and have them here with free shipping in two days. I used to spend hours browsing small bookstores in Rochester, and these days browsing the Amazon recommendations for what an algorhythm thinks I might like simply isn’t the same. That love of bookstores was enough to interest me in this film, but it’s an odd experience from beginning to end, and the pace is so slow it’s like watching paint dry.
Some reviewers liked the film better than I, so here’s the other point of view.