Set in an English coastal town circa 1959, this film is based on Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel and directed by Isabel Coixet.
Emily Mortimer delivers an excellent performance as Florence Green, a young, idealistic widow who decides to transform a run-down building (aptly called the Old House) into a bookshop. Unfortunately, she lives in a community filled with non-readers. The local bank manager falls asleep after reading three pages of any novel, and Florence’s assistant (delightfully played by Honor Kneafsey) states upfront that she doesn’t read.
But these are the least of Emily’s worries.
Society matron Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson) is determined to convert the Old House into an arts center, showcasing lectures and chamber music concerts. A power struggle ensues with Violet’s ruthlessness in full display.
As Florence’s obstacles increase, she finds an unlikely ally in Edmund Brundish (well played by Bill Nighy), a reclusive widower who loves to read. When we first meet Edmund, he is tearing off and burning the dust jacket from a book. While he likes to read, he dislikes the thought that actual people wrote the books. Instead, he prefers to believe that these books came about through “spontaneous generation.”
The film moves at a leisurely pace with little action. In fact, most of the drama seems to occur over a cup of tea. If you haven’t read the novel, prepare yourself for an unexpected ending.
While some reviewers have criticized the voice-over narration, I found it useful for plot development. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the voice belonged to Julie Christie.
An excellent film that will appeal to fans of bricks-and-mortar bookstores, seaside villages, and Bill Nighy.