Title: 84 Charing Cross Road
Country: UK, USA
Genre: Biography, Drama, Romance
Director: David Hugh Jones
Music: George Fenton
Cinematography: Brian West
Jean De Baer
A feel-good film for nostalgic bookworms, adapted from Helene Hanff’s 1970 eponymous epistolary memoir, stars two acting legends Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins, and spoilers alert, they never share one single scene together!
It is about a transatlantic friendship between two people they have never met, they correspond by letters only. Everything starts in 1949, Helene Hanff (Bancroft) is an American writer living in NYC, feeling frustrated by the deficiency of British literature in the city, she tries her luck with an antiquarian bookshop Marks & Co, located at the titular address in London that does mail order. This initiates not only a 20-year-long friendship between Helene and Frank Doel (Hopkins), the manager of the Marks & Co and a family man with 3 daughters, but with the rest of the staff as well. From ordering books, they start to exchange gift packages, especially when Helene mails the food parcels, which become a sensation for those in the food shortages after WWII in Britain. Through the length of 20 years, they correspond each other discussing literature, their daily life (although Helene’s family background is intentionally circumvented), and historical moments such as the coronation of Elizabeth II.
The picture is director David (Hugh) Jones’ second feature work, one biggest challenge is the running account narration of its source material and wanting cinematic spectacles. So Jones has completely de-dramatised the film, even for the tragedy which completely annihilates the chance of a belated face-to-face encounter between Helene and Frank, it only shows Nora (Dench), Frank’s wife, writing a letter with well-handled forbearance; whereas Helene responses the news with superficial composure, restrained shock and sympathetic grief. But that is it, otherwise there is no palpable undulation in the emotional quarter.
Instead, Anne Bancroft is jubilantly sprightly in beautifying Helene’s monotonous life orbit, an intellectual with good sense of humour, she embraces life fully and it is not so often we can see Ms. Bancroft reveal this facet of her personality. So she gladly won a BAFTA for BEST ACTRESS for the role (in a time when BAFTA hasn’t degraded into a precursor for Oscar race). Hopkins, whose gentleman like bonhomie is also a treat to enjoy, since soon his Hannibal Lector’s image would entrench in our general prospect for him. Dench is so unassuming in her supporting duty, yet she and Hopkins’ perfect line-readings are purely divine.
As a whole, it is not an exciting piece of cinema for my material-leaning taste, however it at least can evoke the nostalgia to appreciate a bygone era when penfriend-ship can be intimately moving and essentially important during one’s life.