If you enjoy watching Emily Mortimer at work, as I do, you’ll get something out of The Bookshop, but the film itself is an odd duck. Adapted from a novel by Penelope Fitzgerald by writer-director Isabel Coixet, it lays out its premise and likely outcome in its opening moments, through the words of an unidentified narrator. In other words, it introduces its setting (a small coastal village in East Angelia), time period (the late 1950s), and dramatic conflict, even its resolution. All that’s left is for the outline to be fleshed out as the story follows its preordained path to an unhappy ending.

Mortimer plays a young widow who decides that her destiny is to open a bookstore and be surrounded by books. They take you on journeys and allow you to live many lives; what’s more, unlike people, they never let you down. But her plans run afoul of the community’s steely grande dame (Patricia Clarkson), who had other ideas for the town’s long-vacant “old house.” Her agenda from that point forward is to upset Mortimer’s plans and destroy the people who surround her, by any means necessary. Bill Nighy is the ideal actor to play the town’s notorious recluse, a widower who like Mortimer experiences life through reading.

A film that makes itself so predictable can only overcome this obstacle through atmosphere, performance, and abundance of charm or style. The Bookshop has some of those qualities but not enough, sorry to say. It’s slow as molasses and can’t overcome a story of fate that’s been laid out for us in the very first scene.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024