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Distant Cares for Book Lovers,
This review is from: 84 Charing Cross Road [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
Authors are fond of saying that the written word can take people anywhere, thinking no doubt of the intense relationship that a reader can have with an engaging author's writing. 84 Charing Cross Road explores a different dimension of how the written word travels: the role of correspondence, a virtually lost art today. The movie deftly displays how you can share your heart with someone you've never met.
The movie is based on 20 years of actual correspondence between New York author Helene Hanff and Frank Doel, the manager of a small London book store. Hanff's in-your-face New York energy and candor are what make the exchange meaningful to viewers. Hanff is a $40 a week script reader as the movie begins but has an affection for British nonfiction that leaves her frustrated with a lack of out-of-print titles in New York. Seeing a small advertisement in The Saturday Review, she writes to Marks & Co. in London (located at 84 Charing Cross Road) asking with trepidation for used books that cost less than $5 each and requesting specific titles.
The movie handles this distance relationship by alternating between receiving and sending correspondence and revealing little bits of the daily lives of those involved. At the core, however, is always a shared passion for books and good writing. The two styles of communicating could not be more different: Hanff doesn't edit her inner thoughts when writing, and Doel is proper and reticent.
The correspondence and relationship take an unexpected turn when Hanff learns how little fresh food English people are allowed during post-war rationing but how cheap it is to send some from Denmark. With a good heart, she sends off a first package . . . and then fears she may offend by having sent a ham to people who keep kosher.
A film like this obviously depends on some pretty special acting. Anne Bancroft does a wonderful job of being breezy, but intense, in her performance. I loved the scenes where a cigarette dangles precariously from her mouth as she pounds away with two fingers on an old manual typewriter. The role of the reserved Doel is more of a challenge, but Anthony Hopkins manages to capture the interest and delight that a reserved man might enjoy in lighthearted correspondence. Judi Dench plays Doel's wife in a role that shows versatility from the roles that you know her better for.
Unlike many films, this one has a heart. The actors are turned loose to play their roles in extreme ways (especially Bancroft) and the sentimentality works. Some of the most fun moments are when she turns to the camera and addresses the audience with a sparkle in her eyes.
As I watched the film, I was reminded of the idea that relationships are more important than issues. Even when Hanff was angry about something, she would still be solicitous about the people at 84 Charing Cross Road she cared for.