Synopsis: A young journalist in London becomes obsessed with a series of letters she discovers that recounts an intense star-crossed love affair from the 1960s.
Stars: Felicity Jones, Callum Turner, Joe Alwyn, Nabhaan Rizwan, Shailene Woodley
Director: Augustine Frizzell
Running Length: 110 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: I vaguely remembered watching the trailer for The Last Letter from Your Lover when it was first released a month or so ago and as is the case with most previews I see now, I turned it off before it was halfway over. I needed to see no more. Period setting? Love story? Bit of mystery? London setting? A handful of actors I find intriguing? The boxes were unanimously checked, and this went straight into the ‘oh yes, please and thank you and when can I feast my eyes’ bucket. I’m too lazy to go back and check now (and please don’t tell me) but did the preview also show how charming and adorable this late summer romantic drama was? I honestly thought this was going to be far stuffier than it turned out but The Last Letter from Your Lover is a real find so late into July and a palette cleanser for those soured on scores of brainless comedies, action films, and an endless array of binged TV shows.
In reality, I should have seen it coming. It’s based on a novel written by Jojo Moyes who managed to turn her book about the doomed love story between a small town pixie dreamer and rich paralytic into the rather memorable film Me Before You in 2016. This isn’t in quite the same category and has its sights set on loftier goals, but both films rely heavily on sudsy romance and beautiful leads to win over audiences ready to swoon at the mere suggestion of unrequited love. Moyes might even be called to the mat for going overboard by featuring not one, not two, but maybe even three hard-won romances in The Last Letter from Your Lover and darn it all if I didn’t get a little misty by the time it was all through.
In present day London, Ellie (Felicity Jones, The Midnight Sky) a journalist for a popular publication is assigned to write a story on a recently deceased long-time employee who has left all her writings to the paper. After battling with the paper’s fussy archivist (Nabhaan Rizwan, 1917) for access, she explores the cache of material and finds a rain-soaked letter within, a letter containing a love note from decades earlier. We know the note is between Jennifer Stirling (Shailene Woodley, The Mauritanian) the American wife of an upper crust but cold Englishman (Joe Alwyn, Boy Erased) and Anthony O’Hare (Callum Turner, Green Room) a reporter that meets up with the couple while on vacation to write a story about the husband. Unimpressed by the reporter at first, where there’s friction, there is soon fire and before long the two are swept up in a passionate affair.
Back in the modern time, Ellie continues to look into the history of the letter and finds more of them within the historical documents. This spurs her into writing a new story about the affair, uncovering a love story that had laid dormant for quite some time, even as Ellie’s own romance with the archivist is taking on a life of its own. The closer Ellie gets to finding out what happened to Jennifer and Anthony, the further she begins to retreat from her own happiness. Amidst her detective work, is she living too much in the past and making a mistake she’ll regret?
Taking a few steps back, I must admit there is a feeling that the cast skews slightly too young for the more mature nature of the story. Even sitting in their late 20s/early 30s, Turner, Alwyn, and Woodley seem just slightly too young to be playing such established individuals and while Woodley looks totally ravishing in her luxurious wardrobe (by Anna Robbins, Downtown Abbey, with jaw-dropping ensembles that are never repeated twice) it can often feel like someone playing dress-up. This is not a knock on Woodley’s talent in the least. I just wonder what the whole thing would have felt like if Woodley (29) had swapped places with Jones (38) and was paired with Rizwan (24). With all that said, the cast easily creates a chemistry with one another and it’s a chief reason why the film flows so smoothly through both time periods.
Director Augustine Frizzell (also an actress that has appeared in films such as The Old Man & the Gun and the remake of Pete’s Dragon) works a special kind of magic in the final act and while I won’t spoil it, it manages to bring a resolutely beautiful wrap-up to what could have been a maudlin and overly syrupy gathering of loose ends. The performances by two actors (one of whom sadly passed away earlier this year) are especially strong and add to the effectiveness of these final moments, just another key ingredient along with the production design that give The Last Letter From your Lover that special something. Make it a first choice for your next date night.