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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Bookshop is a slow but poignant period drama based on British author Penelope Fitzgerald's novel about a widow (Emily Mortimer) who opens a bookstore in a small English town. Aside from brief drinking and smoking, a sudden (but nonviolent) death, and a scene in which someone starts a fire that destroys a building but doesn't hurt anyone, there's little iffy content to worry about. Characters do yell at/intimidate each other, but there's no physical violence. Language is limited to "shut up," "little shrimp," "that harpy," "bloody time," and the like. The plot and themes are a bit mature for younger kids, but tweens and up who enjoy period dramas and movies about books will find this an appealing if bittersweet tale about the importance of persevering and how you're never really alone when surrounded by books and those who love them.
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What's the story?
THE BOOKSHOP takes place in 1959 in the fictional East Anglian coastal English town of Hardborough, where a youngish war widow named Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) uses her savings to start a bookshop in an old, unoccupied building on the town's high street. But Florence's decision to convert the damp, ancient Old House into her home and business runs afoul of local grande dame Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), who believes the house should be used as an "arts center." Florence hires local tween Christine (Honor Kneafsey) as an after-school employee and discovers that rich hermit Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy), who prefers books to people, is thrilled to be her best customer (although they communicate primarily via letters). Florence asks for Edmund's advice about whether she should stock Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel Lolita and continues to ruffle Violet's feathers. What will happen when Violet pulls rank?
Is it any good?
This subdued period adaptation starring the wonderful Mortimer celebrates the magic of books and bookstores. Mortimer is one of Hollywood's many underappreciated character actresses over 40, and it's a pleasure to see her in a leading role. She's able to convey much with the slightest widening of her eyes and straightening of her posture, and her work here is notably good. And the always excellent Clarkson doesn't disappoint in playing a polite but ruthless doyenne who will get her way no matter what; she's a pro at delivering rich, cruel, self-absorbed characters. Nighy, who's just as versatile as the women in the cast, is utterly believable as Edmund, a gentleman bibliophile who spends all his time with fictional people so he doesn't have to deal with the disappointment of real ones.
Still, The Bookshop is slow in parts, and the plot is far from the typical underdog story. Were this an American production, the end would no doubt be considerably more upbeat. But this European film (English setting, Spanish director) doesn't offer any pat happily ever afters. Quite the opposite -- there's a surprising sadness that pervades the last third of the movie, as Florence's quest to keep the bookstore begins to seem doomed. This is a low-key story with a simple storyline that proves how petty the rich and powerful and how oppressive small towns can be, but it's worth watching for Mortimer's performance and for the reminder to celebrate independent bookstores in our communities.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Bookshop's message about the importance of reading. How do books impact or change the characters' lives?
How does the time period of the setting impact the movie's story? Could the movie be translated to today? Why or why not?
- In theaters: August 24, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: January 15, 2019
- Cast: Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Bill Nighy
- Director: Isabel Coixet
- Studio: Greenwich Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements, language, and brief smoking
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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