Home > Reviews > THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER – Daniel Hart

THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER – Daniel Hart

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Last Letter from Your Lover is a British period romantic drama directed by Augustine Frizzell, adapted from the popular novel by Jojo Moyes. The film stars Felicity Jones as Ellie, a journalist tasked with writing an obituary for her recently-deceased editor. Having recently been involved in a painful romantic breakup, Ellie is fascinated when she discovers a series of passionate love letters in her newspaper’s archive, and decides to try to track down the letter writers and find out what happened to them. Ellie discovers that the letter writers were Jennifer (Shailene Woodley), a 1960s socialite, and Anthony (Callum Turner), a journalist, and that they met when Anthony came to write an article about Jennifer’s husband Laurence, a wealthy but emotionally distant industrialist. As Ellie uncovers details about their affair, and their powerful connection, she is also inspired to try to rekindle her own romantic life, and begins a hesitant relationship with Rory (Nabhaan Rizwan), the newspaper’s archivist. The story is a familiar one – it is essentially the same as A.S. Byatt’s Possession from 2002, and the Spanish film El Verano Que Vivimos from last year – but it is splendidly told, with lush period production values and an earnest Englishness to offset the sentimentality.

The score for The Last Letter from Your Lover is by composer Daniel Hart, who is having a banner year in 2021 with this film and the concurrently-released medieval fantasy The Green Knight. Whereas The Green Knight saw Hart at his most creative and his most experimental, The Last Letter from Your Lover sees Hart at his most conventionally orchestrally romantic, which is not to say that this is a bad thing. Hart’s score taps into that identifiably British type of introspective romance at which composers like Rachel Portman, George Fenton, and Dario Marianelli excel; there’s something about the languid pacing, and the phrasing of the strings and the woodwinds, that is so redolent of period romances like that, and it’s wonderful to see Hart tapping into that vein and letting his own romantic side emerge.

The score is built around two recurring themes – one for the historical romance between Jennifer and Anthony in the 1960s, the other for the contemporary romance between Ellie and Rory. These the two themes tend to dance around each other without ever really combining; much like the two romances, they are separated by time, and it is only during the final that the two ideas begin to combine.

The Jennifer and Anthony theme is introduced in the opening cue, “The Last Letter from Your Lover,” and is a lovely swirl of delicate piano lines, elegant woodwinds, light textures from harps (featuring soloist Anne Denholm), metallic percussion, and a lovely string wash. There is a hint of Alexandre Desplat’s romance in some of the textures, and in the inherent classicism of the piece as a whole. There are some really pretty recapitulations of the theme in several later cues; notably the more downbeat “You Really Don’t Remember Anything,” the reticent “Alberto’s,” the bittersweet pair “A New Life” and “Train Station Rendezvous,” and the waltz-like “Misplaced, But Certainly Not Lost” among them.

The scenes set in the French Riviera – where Jennifer and Anthony first meet, and where they first embark on their affair after Laurence is called away – have something of an idyllic, sunny sound, enlivened with bolder string figures and more rhapsodic piano writing. You can hear this in the second half of “Evelyn Waugh,” prominently in “Corsica” with its subtly tropical sound, and then in the pivotal “Postman’s Park,” which is just sublime.

The Ellie and Rory theme gets its introduction in the third cue, “What Time Was Your Appointment,” and is a little more upbeat and jazzy, with ticking percussion and plucked basses bringing a more groovy vibe to the hustle and bustle of Fleet Street, contemporary London’s newspaper hub. The theme also has a sort of quirky, playful, inquisitive sound, a perfect representation of Jones’s performance of Ellie as a scrappy, dogged investigator charmed by the romances of the past. This theme recurs several times within the score too, charting the awkward development of the relationship, notably in cues like the mischievous and flirtatious “Sorry, We Don’t Allow Food or Drink,” the restrained “A Canvas Tent,” “Letters Between Ellie and J,” and then towards the end in “The Five Days Later Type,” “Write from the Heart” and “Industriously Waiting in the Rain”. These latter three offer much more orchestral arrangements of their theme, representing the fact that their own romance grows and becomes stronger as they learn more and more about Jennifer and Anthony.

The final cue, “An Invitation,” is the romantic climax of the score, and may be the most traditionally beautiful cue Daniel Hart has written to date; it’s an expansion of the music previously heard in the “Postman’s Park” cue, and underscores the scene where the elderly Jennifer and Anthony finally reconnect – 50 years later – thanks to Ellie’s persistence, and they remember the affair they had, the love they shared, and the opportunities of what might have been. Hart allows his piano and his strings to grow over the course of the cue, subtly blending with some of the jazz percussion textures from Ellie and Rory’s theme – the only time in the score this really happens – until it all climaxes in a wonderful rush of emotion during the final minute. It’s just glorious.

The Last Letter from Your Lover is one of those undemanding, thoroughly enjoyable romantic drama scores that always hit me right in my sweet spot; the combination of pretty thematic ideas, lush orchestration, and emotional impact can never be taken for granted, because so few composers do it well these days. Not only that, looking at the bigger picture, I think that this score, in combination with The Green Knight, has really cemented the fact that Daniel Hart is the full package when it comes to successfully composing for films across multiple different genres and in multiple different styles. Having already mastered traditional Americana by way of things like Ain’t Them Body Saints and The Old Man and the Gun, having shown his versatility in children’s fantasy scores with a healthy dose of full orchestral action adventure through Pete’s Dragon, and having brought contemporary classical techniques to A Ghost Story, I have no doubts about his capacity to excel at any type of score you care to give him, and that’s a very good thing indeed.

Note: the soundtrack album does not include the film’s original song, “Cherry Flavored Stomach Ache” by the band HAIM, which plays over the end credits and is actually rather good, although – bizarrely – it reminds me of Paul Simon’s “Call Me Al”. It was released separately by Columbia Records.

Buy the Last Letter from Your Lover soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Last Letter from Your Lover (3:11)
  • One Hardly Notices Any Scarring at All (1:57)
  • What Time Was Your Appointment? (1:16)
  • You Really Don’t Remember Anything? (1:17)
  • Sorry, We Don’t Allow Food or Drink (1:07)
  • Evelyn Waugh (3:10)
  • Alberto’s (2:40)
  • Corsica (1:23)
  • Postman’s Park (2:25)
  • A Canvas Tent (1:36)
  • A New Life (3:51)
  • Train Station Rendezvous (2:28)
  • Letters Between Ellie and J (1:47)
  • PO Box 13 (2:42)
  • The Five Days Later Type (1:49)
  • Misplaced, But Certainly Not Lost (1:31)
  • You Chose Your Family (0:46)
  • I Remember Everything (1:46)
  • Write from the Heart (1:21)
  • Industriously Waiting in the Rain (1:13)
  • An Invitation (4:34)

Running Time: 43 minutes 50 seconds

Milan/Netflix (2021)

Music composed by Daniel Hart. Conducted by Ben Foster. Orchestrations by Daniel Hart. Additional music by Shirley Song. Featured musical soloist Ann Denholm. Recorded and mixed by Jake Jackson. Edited by Mark Jan Wlodarkiewicz and Jack Sugden. Album produced by Daniel Hart and Jake Jackson.

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