Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) is a restless widow who makes a bold decision to use the money she inherited from her husband to open the first bookshop in the damp East Anglican town of Hardborough. The site she has chosen is the Old House, a place that has been unused for over 500 years.
Luckily, she finds an enthusiastic helper in ten-year old Christine Gipping (Honor Kneafsey), who is advanced beyond her years and quite taken with Florence's idealism. Unfortunately, Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), a rich, cultured, and controlling woman in the community, wants to establish an arts center in the Old House. She is willing and able to use everything she can to dash Florence's dreams.
This challenge firms Florence's resolve, and she tells the local banker, "It's a peculiar thing to take a step forward in middle age, but having done it, I don't intend to retreat." Nonetheless, it is quite disappointing to see that most of the stodgy townsfolk are not readers. The only one who seems to care about her mission is Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy), a rich and eccentric intellectual who advises her to stock Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita and see what happens. This ploy works for a while, drawing in buyers, but Mrs. Gamart and all of her allies put more obstacles in Florence's way.
Isabel Coixet directs this character-driven drama based on a 1978 novel by Penelope Fitzgerald. The director has a knack for showcasing the qualities in her characters that stir our emotions. Her Learning to Drive is a radiant story about the blossoming friendship between a New York book critic and an Indian-American driving teacher. Elegy, an adaptation of a Philip Roth novel, explores the multiple splendors of beauty in a chilly world of intellect, sex, and selfishness. In The Bookshop the spotlight is on Emily Mortimer's compelling performance. She captures Florence's yearning, determination, frustration, and especially her courage. Her persistence in the beginning and her resilience at the end illustrate this Arab proverb:
"Every morning I turn my face to the wind and scatter my seed. It is not difficult to scatter seeds but it takes courage to go on facing the wind."