The Last Letter from Your Lover Movie Review: A romantic celebration that doffs hat to the greats, falls short of a masterpiece
A beautiful film worth investing in due to its exploration of the romantic ideal
The Last Letter from Your Lover is one of those romantic films that is set to the classical mould. In this context of classical, I refer strictly to the famous Hollywood romances of the 50s. Based on Jojo Moyes’ 2012 novel, the story presents two parallel plots: one set in London of the mid-60s, and the other in the present day. While it is a sensitive and realistic journey of love lost and found, it is the past narrative (which kicks off in 1965) that takes precedence over the events of today. This storyline, explored via old, handwritten letters discovered by a contemporary journalist, involves Jennifer Stirling (Shailene Woodley) and Anthony O’Hare (Callum Turner) – the former, married to a passive-aggressive and wealthy industrialist, the latter, a financial journalist who crosses paths with her. The written communication between the two star-crossed lovers is the base on which the film hinges. As Ellie Haworth (Felicity Jones) of the present-day London Chronicle gets drawn into this beautiful exchange of times past, we can see our own hearts investing in their story, egging them on. What is remarkable about the letters and the couple’s story is that it refrains from presenting things as some impossible fantasy / fairy-tale. And yet, it is highly romantic. A poetic love that shuns unrealism while maintaining its beauty, if you will. If the same situation (and time period) were, perhaps, laid out for a discerning individual, a majority would believe in its veracity. As for the acting, Woodley and Turner complement each other quite perfectly, putting in star performances that give the film its weight. Their back-and-forth moments, with a passive-aggressive and borderline manipulative husband only a step away from throwing a spanner in the works, are a sight to behold. Almost takes you back to An Affair to Remember, a classic that undoubtedly served as an inspiration to both the original author and director Augustine Frizzell.
Director – Augustine Frizzell
Cast – Shailene Woodley, Felicity Jones, Callum Turner, Nabhaan Rizwan, Joe Alwyn, Ncuti Gatwa
Streaming On – Netflix
Though endearing, it is the parallel, modern-day romantic narrative between Ellie and Rory (a socially awkward and by-the-book archivist helping Ellie with her research) that doesn’t quite match up to the 60s letter-infused love story at the centre of it all. It does, however, score marks in the humour department. Ellie is impulsive and likes getting things done immediately, while Rory is an unwavering follower of processes. This convergence of two different worlds takes place in the office of The London Chronicle. Ellie wishes to see the establishment’s set of archives for a story. Though they belong to the same office, Rory informs her that she needs to take a prior appointment…which she does, only to be told it needs to be logged online. Even the instances of “no outside drinks or food permitted in the archive room” are quirky and organic enough for a proper chuckle or two. Another scene that had me in splits is when Ellie says (observing Anthony O’Hare’s letter to Jennifer Sterling about the subject of running away together), “If it were today, we’d just exchange a text with some emojis.” And a deadpan Rory interjects with, “No! WhatsApp!” The comic timing and tech-driven reading of the world we live in are so on point in this small scene. It can be argued that the Ellie-Rory narrative plays second fiddle to the Jennifer-Anthony one, but they end up occupying almost the same screen space. The former ought to have been kept a bit more in the shadows for the film to be an out-and-out masterpiece.
There are no marks for guessing how The Last Letter from Your Lover is a tribute to iconic romantic creations of the mid-twentieth century, however, it is in the part-recreation of a period piece that we must all revel in. Intense and highly romantic it may be, but it never gets too mushy and unrealistic at any point during the story’s run. And that aspect must receive credit, thanks to Nick Payne and Esta Spalding’s fine adaptation of Jojo Moyes’ novel. The music featured through the 60s timeline captures the era and Jennifer and Anthony’s great affection for one another in such a pleasant manner. Be it the Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood classic, Summer Wine, or Marianne Faithful’s This Little Bird (playing at the Riviera while they lock eyes for a brief time and begin interacting in earnest thereon) or Doris Troy’s What’cha Gone Do About It (as they dance the night away), the music fits seamlessly into the romantic ideal.
All in all, this is not a film worth missing. It taps into the oldest story in the book, and wins big, for the most part.