One of them is set in the nineteen sixties and deals with Jennifer Stirling (Shailene Woodley), married to wealthy businessman Laurence (Joe Alwyn) and living a life of luxury in London and on the French Riviera. After a car accident wipes her memory, Jennifer finds a love letter addressed to her from a man only identified as “B”. This starts her on a quest to find “B” and rebuild her memory.
Meanwhile in present day London journalist Ellie (Felicity Jones) is researching a story in her newspaper’s archives when she too comes across a love letter from “B”, asking his unnamed lover to leave her husband and meet him at Marylebone station. Intrigued she wants to know more – and sets about finding it out.
The unknown lover is of course Jennifer and the two stories unfold side by side – Elle’s search and Jennifer’s love story. They are very different, both in style and colour
The character of Ellie comes across as both lively and believable. Jones plays her as a very engaging, modern young women from the moment we meet her, charmingly extricating herself from a one night stand with a young man whose name she cannot remember and then later in her bumpy romance with Rory (Nabhaan Rizwan), the pedantic but likeable archivist, who helps her in her search.
However their story is little more than a slightly padded out plot device to reveal the much more complex story of Jennifer and the sixties world in which she lives. And that story is far less convincing – more like a Mills and Boon novel rather than bearing any relationship to real life as it was lived at that period.
The emphasis here seems to be on creating a glossy, high fashion, fantasy world of the past, while Woodley as Jennifer is like a beautifully dressed Barbie doll, who doesn’t really convince as a real woman. The actress seems to be struggling not only with a rather wobbly English accent but also to even open her eyes, weighed down, as they are by half a ton of false eyelashes. The costume department too has rather overdone its love affair with the fashion of the period, particularly the Jackie Kennedy style pillbox hat. Jennifer seems to have about a dozen of them in her wardrobe.
Callum Turner is adequate although a bit dull as her lover, the mysterious “B”, who is actually a journalist called Anthony O’Hare. The alias is a reference to the hero of Evelyn Waugh’s novel “Scoop”. Alwyn does his best to bring life to the role of Jennifer’s controlling husband, who seems to come from an even earlier period.
The characters of Jennifer and Anthony only really come to life near the end of the film in two lovely cameo performances from the late Ben Cross and Diana Kent as Anthony and Jennifer in their seventies, who are tracked down by the persistent Ellie. Perhaps too late in the day to save the film but the two older actors capture the poignancy of their love story perfectly in a way their younger selves fail to do.