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84 CHARING CROSS ROAD

From the July 17, 1987, Deseret News

84 CHARING CROSS ROAD — Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins; rated PG (profanity).

Based on a true story, "84 Charing Cross Road" is a wonderful little movie that seems terribly out of its element as it gently strides into the frenetic rush of silly summer cinema.

How can a small film with literary notions possibly compete with nerds, sharks, robocops and spaceballs?

Hopefully the intended adult audience will find it and hurry on down to the Utah Theater before it disappears. Of all the movies showcased at the United States Film Festival this past January, this was my favorite (and seems a sure bet for a place on the end-of-the-year 10 best list).

Anne Bancroft has the lead role as a struggling writer in New York shortly after World War II. She loves English literature but has trouble finding any books that don't cost a fortune.

Then she stumbles upon a small ad in Saturday Review, an ad for a London bookstore at the title address, "84 Charing Cross Road." The ad says the store specializes in antique books, and Bancroft takes that to mean they are also expensive.

But as she corresponds with the store's chief bookseller, played by Anthony Hopkins, she discovers they are more affordable than she had imagined. In addition, Hopkins and his fellow employees are friendly and most accommodating.

The slender plot is based on their growing long-distance friendship, developed through letters written over the course of more than 20 years. Gradually their exchanges go from cursory orders and replies to more personal correspondence, expanding beyond merely the respective exchange of books and payment.

Making a movie about reading and writing, with its two focal characters being people who have not met, must have been a particular challenge. But director David Jones and screenwriter Hugh Whitemore have superbly overcome the inherent obstacles, structuring the film around the letters with which Bancroft and Hopkins correspond and managing to make the most mundane bits of daily business interesting. The flow of the story and warmth of the characters are quiet, yet exhilarating, and the film never feels slow or sluggish.

Bancroft and Hopkins are, as usual, excellent in their respective roles, two very different people — Bancroft alive and vibrant, Hopkins understated and veddy properly British —- bonded by their mutual love of literature. The supporting cast is also quite good.

The anecdotes related here are alternately cheering, sad, humorous and tragic. And the love and respect for the film's characters — as well as good books — is evident by the filmmakers and shared by the audience.

One minor quibble: Did Bancroft say Chaucer wrote in "Old English"? I thought he wrote in "Middle English." Hmmm.

Rated PG for some profanity, "84 Charing Cross Road" is a wonderful alternative to the hyper-paced, mindless movies that currently fill local theaters; a warm, gentle, thoughtful film that is well worth seeking out.