Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)
Oh, to be in England...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

84, Charing Cross Road -1987

I am so happy to discover there are still decades of great films for me to catch up on. 84 Charing Cross Road is an absolute gem from 1987 and although looks a tad dated, it is dated in a rather charming way. Sort of like the books they sold at the antiquarian bookshop of title.

Based on the 1970 book 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff it chronicles the 20 year correspondence between Helene, a poor writer from NYC with very specific taste in books and a bookseller in London England who tracks down many of the titles she wants. Although originally just corresponding with Frank P. Doel who was the most senior employee of Marks & Co., Helene also occasionally corresponded with other staff members and even Frank's wife Nora.

This unlikely book consists of the real letters containing the transatlantic correspondence from 1949 until Frank's death in 1968. Here is a sample:

                                                                                               14 East 95th St,
                                                                                                New York City
                                                                                                October 5, 1949
Marks & Co.,
84, Charing Cross Road
London, W.C. 2


     Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out-of-print books. The phrase "antiquarian book-sellers" scares me somewhat as I equate "antique" with expensive. I am a poor writer with antiquarian taste in books and all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions or in Barnes & Noble's grimy marked-up schoolboy copies.
     I enclose a list of my most pressing problems. If you have clean second-hand copies of any of the books on the list, for no more than $5.00 each, will you consider this a purchase order and send them to me?

                                                                               Very Truly Yours,
                                                                                Helene Hanff
                                                                                (Miss) Helene Hanff

Anthony Hopkins plays Frank P. Doel, originally quite stuffy in the letters and then warming up as he becomes friends with the outspoken American on the other side of the Atlantic.

Anne Bancroft plays Helene Hanff to a tee. Anne's husband Mel Brooks bought the rights to the then popular book as a vehicle for his wife. Luckily she is an incredibly talented actress who really connected with the character of Helene and gave the film it's heart.

Judi Dench plays Frank's wife Nora, with a lovely Irish lilt to her voice. A small role, but Bafta nominated all the same!

Helene: I hope 'madam' doesn't mean over there what it means here!

Helene: It's against my principles to buy a book I haven't read, it's like buying a dress you haven't tried on.

Helene: I remember years ago a guy I knew told me that people going to England for the first time find exactly what they go looking for. I said I'd go looking for the England of English Literature, and he nodded and said 'It's there'.

Cheers and enjoy the book and the film. My book is on order!


  1. It's so funny to see Judi Dench popping up in so many movies! She's everywhere!

  2. Thanks for the tip, I'm going to read the book and then watch the movie.

  3. Oh my goodness - we are definitely on a similar wavelength, Sis! I just watched another Anthony Hopkins / Anne Bancroft film from that vintage … "The Elephant Man" (dir. David Lynch). Mel Brooks produced that one, too! If you haven't seen it, it's definitely worth a look. Black and white film depicting Victorian England and the story of John Merrick, the Elephant Man. Very well done.

  4. Dear Jenny, I discovered your blog yesterday and absolutely loved it. Lately, I've been pretty obsessed with Jane Austen myself. I was wondering I you had seen The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved, two web series that you can find in YouTube and that are contemporary adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Emma, respectively. So far, I have loved them both, especially Emma. I would love to know what you think!

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