The Last Letter from Your Lover finds romance in the archives

Parallel love stories play out in the 1960s and the modern day in director Augustine Frizzell’s perhaps too effiicient adaptation of Jojo Moyes’s novel.

Nabhaan Rizwan as Rory and Felicity Jones as Ellie in The Last Letter from Your Lover

The Last Letter from Your Lover is in UK cinemas from 6 August.

In Me Before You (2016), based on a novel by Jojo Moyes, an irreverent young woman fell in love and also re-evaluated her life when confronted by the misfortunes of another. The film was a success with audiences, if not critics, and this adaptation of another Moyes book tries a similar formula. In a departure from the original text, its contemporary heroine, Ellie, is not having an affair with a married man. Instead, she falls for the young archivist who helps her investigate a series of historic love letters. And in contrast to the book, it suggests a more hopeful fate for the star-crossed correspondents, married socialite Jennifer and debonair journalist Anthony, shown chiefly in flashback.

And so two love stories play out in parallel, with an additional timeline in the 1960s tracing an amnesiac Jennifer’s own investigation into her recent past, as she discovers the letters and begins to remember details of their affair. In the 60s scenes, the screenplay relies on twists and intrigue to keep the attention – characters are painted with broad brushstrokes.

Shailene Woodley as Jennifer and Joe Alwyn as Lawrence in The Last Letter from Your Lover

Having starred in the tween weepie The Fault in Our Stars (2014), Shailene Woodley may be smart casting as far as marketing is concerned, but her performance lacks conviction – she doesn’t look comfortable either in the period garb or with the dialogue (perhaps with good reason). Neither Jennifer’s husband nor her lover bring much character to this part of the story, so it remains reliant on calculated melodrama.

As Ellie, Felicity Jones is this film’s greatest asset, putting in a spirited performance and making the most of more humorous dialogue. Bored by her official assignment and fascinated by the letters she uncovers, Ellie has a hint of rebellion that she uses to tease Rory the archivist (Nabhaan Rizwan), who tends to stick to the rules. Largely thanks to Jones, the banter between the two has a gentle comedy. But it’s a far cry from the edgy laughs of director Augustine Frizzell’s energetic debut, Never Goin’ Back (2018), which she also wrote. This feels like a Moyes book that has been processed a little too efficiently with the target audience in mind. The changes to the book makes the story more upbeat story as well as more diverse, but tone and pacing are uneven, and most characters fail to involve. While Ellie is easy to like, the film itself is hard to fall in love with.