Back when I read the book, and people mentioned that there was a movie starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins, I have to admit I was suspicious. It’s a book written in letters, one that doesn’t have much of a plot to begin with. How on earth could the movie do it any justice?
I put it on the back burner of my brain, and let it simmer there for a good 6 months… and then I pulled it out a couple weeks ago, on a night when there wasn’t much to do and I was looking for something to watch. Lacking cable, I turned to Netflix instant play, and discovered the movie.
Anne Bancroft is Helene (pronounced hel-leen; something which doesn’t come through in the book), the struggling writer who loves antique books. Anthony Hopkins is Frank Doel, the British shopkeeper who Helene communicates with via letter for years. And the movie, well it’s a sweet, lovely, charming, adorable, and heart-warming as the book. They kept the epistolary form — Anne speaks the letters, sometimes as she’s thinking them, sometimes as she’s pounding at the typewriter, and sometimes she looks directly at the camera, as if she’s talking to Frank. They expand her life a bit, to give it a place and time, but they don’t really do much to change the plot or situations.
Same goes with Frank. Anthony Hopkins is a wonderfully subtle actor; he takes what could be a stuffy English bookseller and gives him humanity and humor. I liked his expanded behind-the-letters scenes with his family best; it made his death at the end of the story that much more poignant.
I was afraid, initially, that they’d change the story and somehow have Helene and Frank meet or fall in love or something horrible like that. But no: they left it as a friendship of equals, of people who are passionate about books. And even though Helene goes to London at the end of the movie, Frank (as well as the store itself) is long gone, so while it does provide closure the book didn’t have, it doesn’t change anything.
Verdict: As sweet, charming and wonderful as the book.