Thursday 16 September 2021

Movie Review: The Last Letter From Your Lover (2021)

A romantic drama, The Last Letter From Your Lover interweaves timelines in an unabashedly old-fashioned celebration of love.

Two related stories are set in London and take place decades apart. In 1965, Jennifer Stirling (Shailene Woodley) is stuck in a loveless marriage with frequently absent and dismissive businessman Laurence (Joe Alwyn). After a car crash Jennifer suffers from memory loss, but she uncovers letters that help her remember the past and flashbacks reveal her love affair with financial journalist Anthony O'Hare (Callum Turner). They met on the French Riviera and fell deeply in love, and over several months exchanged passionate letters as they considered starting a new life together.

In modern day London, journalist Ellie Haworth (Felicity Jones) is still recovering from a difficult ending to a long relationship. While researching a story in the archives of the London Chronicle, she stumbles upon one of the letters between Jennifer and Anthony. Ellie teams up with archivist Rory McCallan (Nabhaan Rizwan) to dig up more of the letters and uncover the full extent of the long-ago love story. Meanwhile, Ellie and Rory also start to grow close, although she may not be ready for another relationship.

An adaptation of the Jojo Moyes book with a screenplay by Nick Payne and Esta Spalding, The Last Letter From Your Lover is irresistibly committed to tried-and-true romantic concepts. As both sets of lovers navigate familiar ups-and-downs, Augustine Frizzell directs with a welcome breeziness, brisk pacing and irony-free attitudes, helped by an attractive cast and grounded performances.

Packaged into a two-romances-in-one-film structure, the 1960s drama is stronger and features an unhappy wife finding the perfect man and having to grapple with the trade-off involved in abandoning her privileged life. The modern story is fuelled by the letters of the past, and offers an initially mismatched couple in Ellie and Rory, starting on opposite sides of a bureaucratic process before bumping against her lack of readiness for a new relationship.

None of the elements are new, but Frizzell tackles both stories with confidence and has two time eras to play with. In particular, the mid-1960s settings in London and the French Riviera provide rich opportunities for glamorous costumes and locations, recalling the jet-set lifestyle afforded to elites like the Stirlings. Ellie's modern context is less visually alluring, but her story is part romance, part journalistic snooping, both enlivened by sprinkles of humour.

Memory loss, men's demeaning behaviour towards women, a classic race against the clock, and an untimely car crash all pour into a final act that merges the two stories. The Last Letter From Your Lover is written in recognizable but quite elegant script.

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