Strong performances and the love of literature infuse “The Bookshop” with passion and sensitivity. Directed by Isabel Coixet, the film is based on the 1978 novel by Penelope Fitzgerald. The setting is a small English town, the year is 1959. The story is triggered when a widow, Florence Green, appealingly portrayed by Emily Mortimer, buys an old building and pursues her dream of opening a bookshop.
Florence soon finds that she is up against a manipulative and powerful upper-class woman, Violet Gamart, played with requisite nastiness by the excellent Patricia Clarkson. Violet wants the building for her own self-promotion, with the aim of turning it into a little-needed arts center. Violet is ruthless and uses her connections to try wipe out the shop.
Florence finds an ally in the reclusive Edmund Brundish, played by ever-effective and scene-stealer Bill Nighy. He sends word to Florence that he would like sent to him books that she would recommend. He takes to “Lolita” and “Fahrenheit 451,” which leads her to order more copies, and as one might expect, as “Lolita” becomes more popular, some townsfolk inevitably object to it. Edmund as Florence’s defender visits Violet to demand that she back off, but fails to deter her.
There is an important subplot involving a youngster, Christine, nicely played by Honor Kneafsey, who begins to help at the bookstore and grows to loyally admire Florence as well as to slowly develop an interest in books. The role, of course, becomes symbolic of youth geared to carry on a tradition of caring about literature.
How all of this is resolved, while ultimately dramatic, seems more manipulative than completely credible. Yet the overriding effect of “The Bookshop,” with its basically low-key direction and delicate approach to the story, is a statement about the importance of dedication to one’s aspirations despite all obstacles, and the hope that the love of books will never die. A Greenwich Entertainment release. Reviewed August 24, 2018.