A celebration of London and friendship gets off to a slow, stiff-upper-lipped start in this early eighties screen adaptation of Helene Hanff’s novel of the same name. This is a true story of an enduring relationship between book-hungry single New York woman Hanff (Anne Bancroft) and a shopkeeper who presides over Marks & Co in Charing Cross Road (Anthony Hopkins as a reticent F.P. Doel). As their friendship develops, Doel and later his family and staff, come to rely on the generous New Yorker who sends them food supplies during the forties ration era.
Hanff’s acerbic wit and lack of deference for popular English editing is a breath of fresh air to Doel who finds himself going out of his way to procure her increasing demands for rare editions of books she semi-scurrilously finds impossible to locate in New York. Lots of nice cross-referencing of staid wordless marital dinners between Hopkins and wife Nora (Judi Dench) with Bancroft’s friendly and lively lunches in Manhattan delis serve to delineate their lives. Bancroft sends food parcels to the staff at Marks & Co where the reception to such indulgence is one of excitement except with one employee’s elderly aunt who screws her nose up at the idea of air mail meat. Bancroft’s smitten with her Brief Encounter (she’s seen cooing over the film) mental picture of England and Marks & Co are inadvertently happy to indulge her. (‘They say you see the London you want to see.’)
Time rattles on. The forties bloom into the fifties and then dive full throttle into the sixties (Bancroft is watching herself on the news being lifted and bundled into a van at a Civil rights protest just before she learns of Doel’s death). She never did make it over during his lifetime (the clue is there in the first scene as she edges gingerly into a long-deserted bookshop) but the protracted nature of their correspondence touches a handful of lives in a meaningful way and you ‘re left contemplating that this friendship endured perhaps because of the remoteness, and in any case was no less profound through mutual invisibility.