The film, starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins is based upon the
autobiographical epistolary novelette by Helene Hanff of
the same title.
The book consists of letters between Helene Hanff, a New York
script-writer, and Frank Doel, a senior employee at Marks and Cohen
Antiquarian bookstore at 84 Charing Cross Road, London. Their letters
progress from formal orders and invoices to familiarity and intimate friendship. Set in the time period of post World War Two through 1970, the story
explores how friendship can develop between two people -- with wildly
different personalities, and from wildly different cultures -- who have never
met in person.
I find the story noteworthy for two reasons. First, it does a wonderful
job describing the culture and romance of antiquarian books. The film
does a particularly good job of describing the appeal of old books and
book shops, from the feeling of camaraderie when a used book opens to the
favorite page of a previous owner, to the look and smell of an antiquarian
book store. It is vaguely like the book and film High Fidelity, in the
sense that the latter explores the culture of music collectors, but
they are radically different in tone and style.
Second, the communications and relationship between Hanff and Doel have
relevant parallels to internet culture, and make the story worth a read
and the film worth a viewing on those grounds alone. Despite the technology we play with, the essential humanity of communication is unchanged.
The dialog and humor are gentle, and the pacing is slow, which makes this a very
relaxing film to watch. It also presents an interesting view of life
both in New York and London, particularly in the post-war era. It also
features admirable performances by Judi Dench and Mercedes Ruehl.