Felicity Jones has played some really formidable and impressive women in her career. Real feminist champions like Jyn Erso in Rough One, Amelia Wren in The Aeronauts, even Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything and of course Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex. It was quite disappointing therefore, to see her in the trailer for this film apparently playing a generic love interest; a kittenish young woman slowly falling for the quirky nervous guy in her office.
Thankfully that is not who she is in this film at all. She’s actually a contrary, sweary and headstrong woman who might just be in a bit of a destructive spiral. It’s a bit of a surprise.
This though is the only surprise in the whole movie. The Last Letter From Your Lover tells of a journalist (Jones) who finds a letter, hidden amongst some archive papers, referring to a powerful affair that took place in the 60s between a married woman and a divorced young father, and then starts to search for more of their correspondence so that she can piece together their story. A story which plays out alongside the contemporary narrative. Also, and you’d never see this coming, as Jones’ Ellie learns more of Jennifer, the mystery lady from the past, she begins to learn more about herself. In fact by the end she has kind of turned into that sappy cliche I feared she might be from the trailer.
To be honest, if she wanted to access the tale that is eventually exposed by her investigations all she needed to do was watch Casablanca, An Affair to Remember, Brief Encounter and The Notebook because that is where author Jojo Moyes appears to have got it from. There is little in The Last Letter From Your Lover that you won’t have seen before. It is interesting that in the screening I was in the cinema staff member stood at the front and welcomed us to ‘The Last Letter From You’ (I love that Everyman always takes the time to do this before every show). She evidently had given up on reading the title of the film before she got to the end and I have no doubt I’d have done the same thing with the book.
Here’s the thing though, this is actually a perfectly charming and enjoyable movie. I may not be able to see it sustaining me for any longer but it is a nice little 110 minute diversion. The acting is earnest but appropriate and all of the performances are good. Shailene Woodley does all of the heavy lifting as Jennifer but Callum Turner bounces off her really well. Turner was previously Frank Churchill to Anya Taylor-Joy’s Emma as well as being Newt Scamander’s brother and I’m sure this film will raise his stock. Their relationship, while predictable, is believable and engaging. I didn’t feel any heartache in seeing them torn apart (that’s not a spoiler, surely) but it was nice to see them together. Joe Alwyn may lean slightly too much toward the dastardly as the husband but we’re not talking Billy Zane in Titanic so it does not distract.
I also have to applaud the costume design, the 1960s outfits are sublime, especially the hats. If I ever see a woman in a bathing suit on screen again and she’s not wearing a matching wide brimmed sun hat then she’s just going to appear racily underdressed. My favourite was the white trench coat and green trilby combo though. It all prompted wonderful flashbacks to The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel and The Queen’s Gambit.
The modern day and historical elements are also balanced skilfully. The danger with dual narratives is that you miss one when you are watching the other but this all combines effectively. Nabhaan Rizwan, as Ellie’s love interest, does feel somewhat like he’s wandered in from a party scene in a noughties British sitcom. He’s clearly supposed to be the kind of guy she would never normally go for, that’s the point, but it is a little tricky to accept him as the kind of guy she’d go for.
The Last Letter From Your Lover is not going to win any awards, or possibly even a very big audience among the under 45s. It think it wants to play to the Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife crowd but it is slighter than that. It tells a sweet story of women determinedly taking what they want though, it is dressed up well and I’d be doing it a disservice if I didn’t tell you I enjoyed it.