Writer-director Isabel Coixet's period drama The Bookshop is so bloody British that the story's central concern is that an aristocratic heiress is quietly making it difficult for a young widow to run a bookshop in a small fishing town. This is a story of stifling manners and oppressive codes of conduct, where the wealthy "villains" wear a strained smile and an icky sheen of privilege. Social mores dictate that all others must simply fall in line. Though nearly nothing happens in this movie besides a woman opening a shop and beginning a standoffish friendship with a reclusive man, I still found myself drawn in; sometimes the quiet is enticing.
Emily Mortimer plays Florence Green, whose dream is to honor her dead husband with a bookshop that would memorialize the importance of reading in their relationship. But most people in her rural town aren't readers. The local heiress, Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), would rather the location Florence has selected become a small arts center. She orchestrates little inconveniences designed to push Florence elsewhere -- as politely as possible. So politely, in fact, that I often forgot that was the actual plot line, until it snuck up on occasion.
This is the kind of film where a character (Florence) worries endlessly over the color of her dress and what that color conveys to the people who see it. In American films, if a protagonist is racked with grief and financial pressures, they're often depicted thrashing in a violent rage, desperate to feel something. It's sometimes nice to be reminded of violence of the papercut variety, that some troubles can be worked through without an ass-kicking.