The Last Letter from Your Lover, review: A classic tale of doomed love – thankfully, it knows it

This starry adaptation of a Jojo Moyes bestseller piles on the romantic and improbable

Clarisse Loughrey
Friday 23 July 2021 06:36
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The Last Letter from Your Lover trailer

Dir: Augustine Frizzell. Starring: Starring: Felicity Jones, Shailene Woodley, Callum Turner, Nabhaan Rizwan, Joe Alwyn, Ncuti Gatwa. 12A, 109 mins.

There will always be a market for stories of doomed love affairs. There’s a thrill to being drawn into a beautiful, tortuous secret – of notes passed between gloved hands and stolen glances across ballrooms. Normally, at least one of the lovers is rich and, nowadays, they’ll exist in some gilded vision of the past. They’ll be like figurines in a snowglobe, isolated from pedestrian reality and all caught up in a flurry of romantic feeling.

The smartest decision The Last Letter from Your Lover makes is to acknowledge that appeal. The film, and the bestseller by Jojo Moyes – a former journalist at The Independent – from which it is adapted, follows one of these doomed love affairs through strictly modern eyes. Ellie (Felicity Jones), a journalist, stumbles across a collection of letters in her newspaper’s archives – the lost correspondence between Jennifer (Shailene Woodley), the wife of an industrialist (Joe Alwyn), and Anthony (Callum Turner), also a journalist. He’s been sent to profile her husband while the couple enjoys one of their yearly jaunts to the French Riviera.

At first, Anthony thinks of Jennifer as nothing but a jewel – a pretty but translucent thing. But she’s a fierce soul waiting for someone to coax her out of her husband’s shadow and see her as she truly deserves to be seen. We all know how the rest of it goes. They’re just like all the other impossible unions of stage and screen.

The Last Letter from Your Lover is a film of exquisite and pristine tragedy. In fact Moyes, whose book was adapted by Nick Payne and Esta Spalding, is perhaps guilty of going too far when it comes to piling on the improbable poor timing and heart-wrenching misfortune. When we first meet Jennifer, she’s in the process of piecing back together her old life after a devastating crash left her with amnesia. Are the memories of her great love lost forever? Does Anthony know what happened to her? Do we, as the audience, care?

Director Augustine Frizzell hopes audiences will feel both tortured by the unknown and soothed by the clean lines and pillbox hats of Woodley’s many Givenchy-esque skirt suits. But her film is truly at its most engaging when it returns to its framing device, as Ellie dives recklessly into Jennifer and Anthony’s correspondence. Their mutual passion seeps out of each page and into her bloodstream, so much that she finds herself irresistibly drawn to archivist Rory (Nabhaan Rizwan).

Shailene Woodley and Callum Turner in ‘The Last Letter from Your Lover'

Though Woodley and Turner are suitably poised and sincere, there’s something refreshing about the giddy and bashful candidness of Jones’s performance. It’s not all that often, after all, that the actor gets to ditch the corsets and the stern expressions of historical pageantry. And Rizwan makes for an ideal sparring partner in both love and obsession. They fall in love like two people bumbling in the dark. It’s not only adorable, it’s a reminder that swooning love stories don’t always need to be told through a rose-tinted lens.

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