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‘It’s a gorgeous, escapist film, something we’re all starved for at the moment’
Image / Living / Culture

DSC_6453.NEF

‘It’s a gorgeous, escapist film, something we’re all starved for at the moment’


by Jennifer McShane
19th Aug 2021

With The Last Letter From Your Lover now in Irish cinemas, we spoke to its director, Augustine Frizzell, author Jojo Moyes and stars Felicity Jones and Shailene Woodley about bringing an unashamedly romantic film to the big screen in Covid times.

It’s all felt so heavy of late, perhaps that’s why the pre-Covid-shot film, The Last Letter From Your Lover feels like a breath of fresh air to watch. It’s a vibrant, romantic, dual-narrative love story set in the French Riviera and London during the 1960s and present day. We meet Jennifer Stirling (Shailene Woodley) and discover how her life becomes inextricably interwoven with that of Ellie Haworth (Felicity Jones) in life-changing events which connect them across almost half a century.

Jojo Moyes

Adapted for the screen by the Jojo Moyes book of the same name, the established author had felt the book “unfilmable” when she wrote it over a decade ago. “I had always thought of as unfilmable because the narrative was so big and complex,” she says.  “And so when I read the first script, I was just impressed that they’d managed to navigate the story in a screenplay format alone. And I think, although there are some elements that the book has, that the film hasn’t got, I think what the director Augustine has done is really stay true to the spirit of the book and the spirit of the two love stories.”

Its visuals are such a strong point, and Moyes agrees, in this way the film helps provide the escapism viewers have been starved for, thanks to the pandemic.

“It’s a gorgeous film,” she agrees. “I think we’re all kind of starved of a bit of gorgeousness at the moment, I’m not sure how many of us are even going to get anywhere beyond the local service station this year. So I hope that it gives people a bit of escapism, as far as the sixties go.

“But for me as a writer, I think that period fascinates me because you have the tension between the old way of doing things, the rather rigid social structures of the 1950s, and then a much looser, less inhibited,  less patriarchal systems of the late 60s when everything kind of blew up. So I was really interested in how you see Jennifer’s progression, for example. She’s a woman who’s kind of trapped in time, but then slowly finds her own freedom.”

Augustine Frizzell

“I think anytime you’re taking something that is a piece of work like Jojo’s book, you’re going to have to eliminate some things,” director Augustine Frizzell agrees of the book’s complexity.  “And so what we tried to do was just stay really close to the characters. And make sure that the heart of the story was these two women and the things that they wanted, which was their agency in life. And so that was kind of the main goal and then making no apologies that we were just making a really romantic love story,” she says.

“It’s the love, [Jojo] doesn’t shy away from the love element of it. “It’s just a way that she also has of telling female stories, and really getting to the heart of what it means to be a woman and how it feels to be in love or brokenhearted.”

“I won’t lie when I read the scripts, and saw the fact that it was set in the 1960s, French Riviera and 1960s, London, those were strong selling points along with everything else, because so many of my favourite movies come from that time. My favourite 1960s film is called Darling. I also love Midnight Cowboy, which is just on the edge of that,” she says of her influences of the era.

I told my producer, I just want something that feels cosy and warm, kind of like comfort food and, and he said, 'Oh, I have just the thing!'

Shailene & Felicity

Shailene & Felicity

Ultimately, Jennifer’s story becomes intertwined with that of Ellie, a whip-smart journalist in contemporary London, who discovers and becomes enthralled by the discovery of a set of love letters from a bygone era.

“I think what’s beautiful about this film is that it explores situations that may occur within any given time period, and yet the human heart and human emotions never change,” says Shailene of what drew her to the movie. “And the desire to feel a connection with someone, especially someone that you have that chemical connection with, is one of the greatest, I think, journeys that we all attest to throughout our lives. ”

The costumes are an incredible element of the film, and Felicity adds that for her character Ellie, she wanted her to weave seamlessly into that era, even though her storyline takes place in modern times.

“It was important that it felt as though Ellie has really admired that period, the 1960s,” she explains. “And we wanted that to be expressed in the way that she dresses, you get the feeling that she’s been watching a lot of French New Wave cinema. And, I think deep down, she is a romantic, and she’s quite nostalgic, which is probably in the first place why she’s drawn to these letters. But then she has this cynicism as well which along with that. So we wanted there to be still a little bit of modernity in the way that she dresses. ”

“For me,  it wasn’t just the costumes for Jennifer, it was the hair, the makeup, the nails, it was all of the elements combined that really did feel like a proper transformation. And there were so many there were bodices that I would wear underneath my dresses,” adds Shailene. “There are certain specific things that you do to adjust your body posture to adjust your breath, the cadence of your breath, and how you breathe that I think all goes to form this woman that was trying to portray, which is very different than any character I had the privilege of working with before.”

“I remember really early on speaking to Augustine and we’ve both done projects before that had been quite grueling, and so we both said, ‘Oh, it’s so nice to do something really cosy,’ Felicity continues. “And, and obviously Last Letter is cosiness embodied and actually a film that is I think people really will enjoy going to see at the cinema because it’s really heartwarming, and has the sweep of an old fashioned romantic film. And those kinds of films are pretty few and far between these days.”

“And we didn’t we filmed this movie before the pandemic happened. So none of us knew when it would be released, that the world would be the state that it currently is in. But I do think that specifically right now, people have been stuck inside, either with their partners or alone. And if they’re had partners, and perhaps they’re not with those people anymore, it’s made their relationships deeper and vaster and more connected,” says Shailene.

“I do think a sense of escapism and a reminder, a very subtle apple pie in your heart reminder, that that connection does exist and that following your instincts and following your truths are what lead us generally to the most fulfilling experiences in life is what audiences will connect with.”

The Last Letter From Your Lover is out now in Irish cinemas