Film Friday: 84 Charing Cross Road

Charing cross Odds are if you are reading this blog, you may not only be attracted to letters, but also to history, books, and the people who love them. If so, you probably have already watched a charming movie that celebrates all of the above: 84 Charing Cross Road. The film tells the true story of the 20-year correspondence between American writer Helene Hanff (Anne Bancroft) and British antiquarian bookseller Frank Doel (Anthony Hopkins).

Helene sees an advertisement for used books in a magazine and immediately types a letter to Marks & Co in London, situated at 84 Charing Cross Road, to ask if they can obtain certain titles for her. Her humorous notes paired with Frank’s proper responses bubble through the changing years and their growing friendship.

Although the film showcases a warm cast of friends and family on both sides of the Atlantic, the primary supporting character is the mail. The letters stay constant while 1949 melts into the 1950s and finally the 60s against a backdrop rich in period details (I could watch the movie again and again just to revel in post war London and brash, lively New York).

84 Charing Cross road

An employee of Marks and Co posts letters in London.

Helene types a two-fingered torrent of words, while Frank quietly dictates to a secretary. Frank smiles at one of Helene’s comments, and points it out to a colleague for a low-keyed laugh. Helene opens a package of books with sensuous delight, cutting off string, unfolding brown paper, and stroking the supple leather covers. Telescoped into a 100-minute movie, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

If you haven’t yet seen this 1987 gem, watch it. If you have, watch it again for the letters. And read the book!

Film Friday: Let me know if you give 84 Charing Cross Road your stamp of approval. 

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3 thoughts on “Film Friday: 84 Charing Cross Road

  1. Diane says:

    My book club read this book a couple of months ago. Out of curiosity I decided to find out how many of the books she found hard to find are currently available. This led to a really interesting use of inter-library loan trough Colorado. I would urge you to give it a try. Some of the old diaries she was interested in are fascinating

    • Susan Lendroth says:

      What a cool idea — I read a biography of Pepys that had a lot of snippets from his diaries. Not sure I could commit to the entirety as Helene wanted to read because he wrote VOLUMES.

      • Diane says:

        There are an amazing number of Pepys Diaries. Some of the books that Helene wanted were almost unintelligible – old sermons,etc. On the other hand I read part of a diary of a French duke (st Simone?) that was wildly funny. He tells the story of another duke and duchess whose parenting skills are revealed when they arrange a marriage for their son. Their plans stall when It turns out the they never had him baptised or given a Christian name. (They have to hunt up his old nurse to verify this.) The diarist mentions that their annoyed son got all the sacraments except the final rites in one day.

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