Bookish Films: 84 Charing Cross Road

84 charing cross road edit

I first read Helene Hanff’s collection of letters on an afternoon when I was feeling particularly crappy.  When I’m low, I have difficulty reading anything too long and too intense so a short book filled with short letters was just the sort of thing I needed.  Well, 84 Charing Cross Road is not a happy-go-lucky book, but it did manage to raise my spirits in spite of having a not so cheery ending.

It’s been about a year or two since I read the letters, and since then, I’ve kept checking the adaptation of the book out of the library and failing to watch it.  I like quiet British movies on the whole, but Sir Anthony Hopkins is not my favorite actor so I put it off.  Today, however, I finally managed to watch it, and I have to say that the movie was very pleasant and soothing (much like the book it is based on).

In case you’ve seen neither the movie or read the book, here’s a little rundown of the plot: Helene Hanff, unable to find British literature at her local New York booksellers, writes a letter to an antiquarian shop in London asking for several books she desires.   One of the sellers at the shop, Frank Doel, writes back.  The rest of the film/book features the two of them writing letters back and forth over the course of two decades.   We observe Frank and his fellow bookshop employees living through the shortages of the Fifties and Helene living through the turbulent Sixties.  Through their letters, the unlikely pair of an outspoken American and a reserved Englishman become friends and develops a deep and lasting bond.

Be forewarned, 84 is not the most traditional movie.  Most of the film is taken up with Helene and Frank writing letters back and forth to each other.  We hear the letters mostly through voice over and, occasionally, they even address themselves to the camera.  I’m not a huge fan of voice over, but here, I didn’t mind it.  I doubt anyone nowadays would agree to make a movie like this (Before Sunrise and its sequels are about the closest we can get), but 84 works because the movie is more like a dramatic reading of the book than an actual film.  (I would really recommend reading the book first so your response to the movie isn’t “What the heck!”)  84 isn’t a movie you can go into expecting character development or even an escalating plot.  84 Charing Cross Road is about friendship and books, and I expect fans of books and British literature will find it enjoyable.  Personally, it reminded me a lot of Enchanted April—only I liked this movie much better than that one.

After watching 84 Charing Cross Road, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  It’s one of those movies that are perfect to watch while snuggled up in your blanket on a cold fall day with a cup of tea.  It’s a peaceful movie and one that I’d recommend checking out (in spite of your possibly negative feelings toward Sir Anthony Hopkins).


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