Turbulent chapters in village life

A look at The Bookshop (PG)

bookshopIN a windy East Anglian village in 1959 an enterprising young woman opens a bookshop in a damp old ruin.

Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) is a widow whose has an abiding love of books, but she soon finds out the village of Hardborough and its surrounding farms and manors is home to an extraordinary collection of oddballs.

Prime among these is the reclusive Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy) who owns several hundred acres of farmland and turns out to be Florence’s best customer.

She gift wraps his purchases and they correspond by letter (no Internet, iPhones or text messaging six decades back) as they’ve both been missing intelligent conversations about books.

And yet the governing spirit of the place is not benign.

A retired general’s wife sits atop the social pyramid and she wants the ruin known as the Old House so she can establish an arts centre.

Mrs. Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson) is slippery, cunning and above all indomitable. On a visit to London she even co-opts a nephew who is a House of Commons parliamentarian to draft a Bill giving local councils the right to acquire disputed historic buildings.

Mrs Green battles on employing sassy schoolgirl Christine (Honor Kneafsey) as her helper and later sleazy out-of-work BBC broadcaster Milo North (James Lance) comes on board.

Violet’s knowledge of England’s petty bureaucracy undermines Christine’s employment as two school inspectors visit her school and she’s no longer able to work after hours in the bookshop.

Mr Brundish can’t stand it any longer. He puts on his best suit and overcoat and visits Violet for high tea at the big manor house.

The problem is that without Christina and the leading Sea Scout boy who delivers her packages and letters to Brundish, Mrs Green doesn’t have a daily dose of village gossip.

Milo ultimately betrays her and the council surveyors – not to mention the Hardborough bank manager, ‘Mr Potato Head’ – arrive at the Old House to do their worst.

The General (Reg Wilson) is sent in by Violet to talk to Mrs Green but he lies to the bookshop owner and tells her Mr Brundish had agreed with his wife about setting up an arts centre.

It’s all too much for the bookshop proprietor. Still, writer-director Isabel Coixet has one last ace up her sleeve and it’s the most unlikely of characters who plays that trump card as the film heads towards the end: and the credits.

    

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