Scribe James Henerson admirably stretches the bounds of credulity without breaking them as he weaves an interesting tale whose premise — a 20th century computer-games designer and a 19th century poet exchange love letters that travel through time when placed in an antique desk — would earn guffaws during a pitch session.
Yet what emerges is a well-executed script, based on a Jack Finney short story, that melds romance, fantasy and quasi time travel, and is enhanced by endearing perfs from it principals.
Story centers on Scott’s (Campbell Scott) obsession with 19th century budding poet Elizabeth Whitcomb (Jennifer Jason Leigh) after discovering one of her love letters (dated in 1863) in an antique desk he purchased at a local store.
Initially reluctant to respond to the flowery prose, he is convinced to do so by his mom Beatrice (Estelle Parsons), a believer in the possibility of crossing over to the “other side.”
But after he receives a reply from Elizabeth, Scott’s actions concern even his mom, and ultimately test the patience of his fiancee Deb (Daphne Ashbrook), who senses Scott’s waning interest in the pending marriage as he becomes more and more distracted by the verbiage of his newly found pen pal.
Scott’s plight is mirrored 143 years earlier in Elizabeth’s reluctance to follow her father’s wish that she wed a local businessman in an arranged marriage. Her uneasiness is exacerbated as the relationship develops with Scott — who, it turns out, was a Confederate soldier in an earlier life and who was killed at Gettysburg before his romance with Elizabeth bloomed.
The story ably juxtaposes the 19th century Civil War atmosphere and the prim and proper conduct of its denizens, with Scott’s historical interest in the era and his civil war with his fiancee that gets pushed to the limit as he seeks more info about “Lizzie.”
The finale brings home the pic’s subtext that hope (and love) spring eternal. The chemistry between Campbell and Jason Leigh is first-rate and their perfs are compelling and credible.
Director Dan Curtis keeps the pace brisk, knowing when to move the tale along or to slow for some weepy moments that are crucial and never indulgent.
He is aided by Eric Van Haren Noman’s camerawork, which uses the striking shades of fall to backdrop the story and its emotional underpinnings while soaking in Jan Scott’s lush production design. Bill Blunden’s editing makes it all seamless.
The only quibble: This Hallmark Card should have been saved for airing closer to Valentine’s Day.