Cherry, from our proficiency exam preparation class, was asked to write a review of a film. Here is what she thought of 84 Charing Cross Road.
No heroes, no villains, no violence, no nudity, 84 Charing Cross Road is not for everybody. It is just about two people living their lives, and caring about how the other leads theirs. You won’t get it if the Hollywood blockbuster is what you are looking for, but if you are a sensitive observer of life, you will hear all that the film is saying, and this bittersweet tale, which is based on a true story, will engross you and move you to tears.
The film begins as Helene Hanff, a single New York writer, is searching for books of ‘antiquarian’ nature. Frustrated at the poor selection in the city’s bookshops, she starts writing to a second hand bookshop in London located in Charing Cross Road. Thus begins an over-twenty-years correspondence between her and the manager of the bookshop, Frank Poel.
The lives of the character gradually unfold before the viewers’ eyes as the letters are read in their own voices. We almost immediately sense the wide difference between the American and the Brit. Helene the American is direct and blunt. Her letters contain occasional touch of humour, while Frank the Brit is serious, writes in an overtly congenial tone, maintaining the formailty and humility of a typical English gentleman. As the correspondence progresses, they get to know more about each other, and their friendship grows slowly but steadily. She sends ‘care packages’ of food to him and his colleagues in post-war rationing times and he travels around the country in search of rare editions of books which she requires. The way they address to each other changes over the years, from sir, to dear Frank and Frankie, and from Madam, to dear Miss Hanff and dear Helene. As the world spins around them, they continue to be there for each other.
By the end of the film, when Helene eventually makes her way to London, her lifelong friend Frank has already passed away. They have never met even once in their lifetime, but who can deny the pure, enduring and unconventional love between them?
84 Charing Cross Road is a superb example of how the cinematic medium can powerfully explore subtle emotions through letter writing, a seemingly mundane activity. It is the kind of film that will be etched on your heart, maybe forever.