Helene Hanff (Anne Bancroft) and Frank Doel (Anthony Hopkins) are lifelong friends who never meet in this unique comedy-drama based on a true story. Hanff and Doel are separated by 3,000 miles of ocean and joined by a passion for old books. Their relationship begins when New Yorker Hanff orders a copy ("unabridged, please!") of Pepys's diary. Doel, as polite and soft-spoken as Hanff is loud and overbearing, fields the request from his book shop in London. For the next two decades they correspond without ever actually sitting down for tea and crumpets. Brit director David Jones (Betrayal) does a reasonably good job of goosing a movie about something as uncinematic as letter writing, and the stars have fun chewing scenery on both sides of the Atlantic. The model for this kind of bittersweet relationship is David Lean's Brief Encounter, which, not coincidentally, is glimpsed here when Hanff steps out for a rainy-day matinee. --Glenn Lovell
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