The Last Letter from Your Lover: Fantastical romances

Fabulous costumes, charming characters ... what’s missing?

The Last Letter from Your Lover is a rom-dram rather than a rom-com

Film Title: The Last Letter from your Lover

Director: Augustine Frizzell

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Felicity Jones, Callum Turner, Joe Alwyn, Nabhaan Rizwan, Wendy Nottingham

Genre: Romance

Running Time: 110 min

Fri, Aug 6, 2021, 05:00

   

Speaking to this newspaper in 2019, Mindy Kaling suggested that the romantic comedy should be viewed as an adjunct of science fiction. It’s a good and sage idea, one that greatly enhances one’s enjoyment of – or possibly tolerance for – the genre.

It’s not enough to think of movie romance as simple wish-fulfilment; if the magic is to work, you have to casually shrug it off if, say, a dragon walks into the undoubtedly luxurious kitchen. It’s a theory that may also explain the billion-dollar appeal of the Twilight books and movies; Stephenie Meyer’s deployment of supernatural beings foregrounds the fantastical from the get-go. Beasts! Bloodsuckers! All bets are off.

The Last Letter from Your Lover is a rom-dram rather than a rom-com, but the Kaling Principle holds. It’s certainly not the film we were expecting from the talented Augustine Frizzell, writer-director of the giddy stoner-girl comedy Never Goin’ Back and the pilot episode of Euphoria.

It is, rather, a moneyed, sumptuous diptych of temporal-jumping love stories. How moneyed and sumptuous? Well, in the 1960s romance – we’ll circle back below – they drive a Rolls Royce at home and a Mercedes on their continental holiday. Meanwhile, in the contemporary romance, journalists work in a real office. In London. There’s even a post office that hasn’t been closed. 

The last hit film based on a novel by Jojo Moyes was Me Before You. Just as that project exposed certain uncomfortably ableist truths, The Last Letter articulates the gaping chasm between contemporaneous love and its ancient – meaning circa 1965 – equivalent. Guess the correct era for the following: “I write these words with you in mind and my heart swells” versus “You’re fucking tip-top”.

Accordingly, Ellie (Felicity Jones), a cynical and indiscriminately sexual journalist, meets uptight archivist Rory (Nabhaan Rizwan) in an investigation into two lovers known, by their correspondence, as “J”, from “Boot”. 

Rewind to the era of pillbox hats, and wealthy socialite Jennifer (Shailene Woodley) and her aloof husband (Joe Alwyn) travel to the French Riviera, where she meets a dashing journalist  (Callum Turner). Sex scenes are duly faded to black before the 12A rating is placed in jeopardy. 

It’s all very fantastic. A potentially fatal car crash leaves Jennifer with a prepossessing scar. Lovely actors get to do very little acting in fabulous costumes. (Bravo, Downton Abbey costume designer Anna Robbins). Everyone is charming. There’s a beautifully shot cliffside drive that would put James Bond to shame. And then a dragon walks into the luxurious kitchen. 

Not really, but – in keeping with the film – a critic can dream, can’t she?

In cinemas