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).
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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