The Last Letter from Your Lover, 2021.
Directed by Augustine Frizzell.
Starring Felicity Jones, Shailene Woodley, Callum Turner, Nabhaan Rizwan, Joe Alwyn, Diana Kent and Ben Cross.
When a journalist finds a love letter while searching her newspaper’s archive, she delves back into the past and uncovers the story of a passionate affair with a tragic ending.
There was a time in the late noughties and early 2010s in which you couldn’t walk into a cinema without seeing either a poster or a trailer for a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. Multiplexes rang out with the sounds of syrupy musical scores, while audiences watched tales of gorgeous men sanding down boats for 90 minutes prior to a typically ludicrous twist ending. There’s something of the Sparks feel to The Last Letter From Your Lover, which sees Texan filmmaker Augustine Frizzell translate Jojo Moyes’s 2008 novel to the big screen with wit, charm and just the right amount of cheese.
It’s a story which unfolds across two timeframes. In the present day, journalist Ellie (Felicity Jones) is researching an obituary for a former reporter at her paper when she discovers a letter between two lovers, arranging a clandestine meeting at Marylebone Station. When she and archivist Rory (Nabhaan Rizwan) find more letters, she becomes obsessed with finding out how the story ends. Meanwhile, flashbacks show the 1960s affair between socialite Jennifer (Shailene Woodley) and finance journalist Anthony (Callum Turner), whom she meets when he writes an article about her industrialist husband Lawrence (Joe Alwyn).
There’s something delightful about the way The Last Letter From Your Lover goes about its business. It’s a schmaltzy movie, for sure, but it’s one shot through with a certain sharpness. While this particular recipe doesn’t break the mould by any means, there’s definitely a mystery ingredient in the mix – self-awareness. Frizzell knows exactly the movie she’s making. She understands what the audience wants, she understands what the narrative requires and she knows how to make it work without the audience gagging on anything too saccharine.
Felicity Jones holds everything together with a sparky, silly central performance. Seemingly relishing the chance to shed the period trappings that often hamstring middle-class British actors, she delightfully locates the slightly messy cynicism of a 21st century journalist – willing to eat an entire croissant in two bites rather than throw it away. Her passion for tracing the letters sidesteps inevitably into a romance with Rizwan’s enjoyably nerdy archive steward, but both performers are smart enough to keep their work breezy and light, even when indulging in the most obvious of romcom clichés.
The other half of the narrative is heavier, more convoluted and tougher for the movie to wade through, but it’s helped by Shailene Woodley dripping in glamour. There’s a real joy to scenes in which she convinces Turner’s smugly self-important writer that she’s far more perceptive, intelligent and complex than the trophy wife stereotype into which he initially categorises her. In these sequences, Frizzell luxuriates in the warmth, colour and sense of possibility present in the opulent glitz of the French Riviera, contrasted with the chilly, forbidding environment of the home in which Woodley’s character ends up – struck with amnesia after a vehicular contrivance. It’s exactly that sort of movie.
But that’s the beauty of The Last Letter From Your Lover. Frizzell steers into the silliness and the clichés, finding the sweet spot between playing it straight and winking at an audience who will have seen dozens of stories like this over the years. The film knows its audience will be at least one story development ahead throughout and, rather than up-end everything in search of a surprise, it plays the hits loudly to the cheap seats like a surprisingly excellent Nicholas Sparks cover band. If it ain’t broke, don’t even try to fix it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.