Letters to and from America

Anne Bancroft in 84 Charing Cross Road (1987)

October 1949 and Helene Hanff (Anne Bancroft) has been trudging around the books stores in New York looking for certain pieces of English literature but to no avail except for some expensive first edition. So when she discovers and advert in the Saturday Review of Literature for a bookstore in London that offers mail order she send them a letter with a list of books she is interesting in. Bookseller for Marks & Co., 84 Charing Cross Road, Frank Doel (Anthony Hopkins) receives the letter and sends over the books she is after along with a letter which is the start of years of correspondence between the two of them as well as Frank's colleagues and his wife Nora (Judi Dench).

In 1987 someone described "84 Charing Cross Road" as a movie about penpals who become friends through their continuous correspondence and thinking back to that I thought whether they could update the movie to a modern world where people email each other and I don't think it would work. The simple reason is that part of the movies charm is in the nostalgia and that sense of anticipation of whether or not a letter will land on the doorstep, you don't get that sense of thrill from an icon flashing on your screen to say you have an email. In fact with most mail being bills or junk mail these days even the sense of anticipation has gone. Plus of course I am yet to come across an email written with such wit and charm as you find in a hand written letter especially those in this movie.

Anthony Hopkins in 84 Charing Cross Road (1987)

That leads me to what still makes "84 Charing Cross Road" work, it is the pure craft which has gone into the writing and how captivating the writing is as it is read from the perspective of each character. The wit runs smoothly for Helene with Anne Bancroft perfectly cast as her whilst Anthony Hopkins as Frank has that stiff upper lip but of a working class man down pat. You find yourself hanging on every word they say to each other in their letters and warming to their postal friendship.

But whilst I admit that I was more charmed by "84 Charing Cross Road" than I thought I was going to be to the point of leading me to pay a visit to the dusty old second hand book seller in my town which Marks & Co reminded me of the final pay off to this movie didn't do it for me. Now I have to keep reminding myself that before it was a movie and a play the original book was based on a true story but it almost feels like the writers were at a loss as to how conclude it.

What all this boils down to is that "84 Charing Cross Road" is still a charming movie which has a wonderful sense of nostalgia which you just see these days. But it is a movie for who get the charm which comes from getting to know people through letter writing.

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