Picks and Pans Review: 84 Charing Cross Road

updated 03/30/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/30/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

The premise of this film—a 20-year epistolary liaison between a New York writer and the manager of a London antique bookstore—doesn't sound all that inviting. But don't be scared away; 84 Charing Cross Road is as beguiling as a letter from a long-lost friend. To be sure, this film doesn't leap off the screen at you (most of the movie is comprised of recitations by Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins), but anyone who has a love for words will adore it. The movie is based on a memoir by TV writer Helene Hanff about her correspondence with Frank Doel during the '50s and '60s. Bancroft is in love "with the England of English literature" but can never find the exact editions of classics in New York. So she responds to an advertisement in the back of a literary magazine from Marks & Co., a London bookstore that specializes in out-of-print books. They fill her requests and then some, and she sends them long, bright letters and boxes of food in postwar rationed London. She longs to visit England (even though she knows Hopkins is married) but keeps postponing the trip because her money either goes to doctor bills or the costs of her meager life. Director David (Betrayal) Jones's film is punctuated with silly soliloquies, as Bancroft talks straight to the audience, a la Equusor more recently, and lamentably, Ferris Bueller. At times Bancroft is cloying and excessively emotional (the film was produced by her husband, Mel Brooks, who bought the rights to the story as a 21st-anniversary present for her). But she contrasts well with the wonderfully understated Hopkins. It is a delight to hear and watch him as he writes her about the latest book he's found for her or to thank her for the packages. Most of all the film is rich in period detail, especially in the bookstore, where leather-bound volumes of the likes of Thomas Hardy and John Donne cover the walls. The opening for Masterpiece Theatre could have been filmed here. No need for Alistair Cooke to spell things out, though: Bancroft's and Hopkins' mutual passion for the English language is palpable. (PG)

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