Luscious, old-fashioned love stories remain popular no matter what - "Titanic" is a hit as much for its grand tale of young love and sacrifice as for its special effects and sweeping spectacle. A good love story reminds us how much we need each other, and Hallmark Hall of Fame's "The Love Letter" (CBS, Feb. 1, 9-11 p.m.) is a delightful high romance.
The movie spins a fantastic story of love that transcends time itself. Beautifully acted and directed, it creates a world that is entirely engaging - even if it does pluck the heartstrings a tad too much from time to time.
"The Love Letter" begins when Scotty (Campbell Scott) buys a Civil War-era desk while shopping with his fiance. Later he discovers a secret compartment, and in it a letter written 134 years earlier by a young woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Scotty is drawn to the writer, finding out all that he can about her. He writes to her with an antique pen and ink, mails the letter with a vintage stamp at a Civil War-era post office, and, amazingly, Lizzie receives his letter and returns it. As the two learn more about each other's lives, they fall in love, defying time and space - and reason.
"It is enormously romantic, nine handkerchiefs," says director Dan Curtis (who also directed "The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance"). "There is always a tremendous audience for a great love story. The problem is trying to find a great love story that works. This story caught the imagination of everyone I took it to. Hallmark moved quickly."
"It's about two souls who keep meeting in different eras," says Mr. Scott. "I do appear in her time as a slightly different version of myself.
"There is a little bit of everything in this film. It's not just a romance. It has a bit of science fiction and a bit of Gettysburg in it - battles and all that. And I'm sure that it will appeal to a broad number of viewers."
Asked if it's difficult to handle a sentimental theme like this one nowadays, Scott says, "sentimentality is easy. It hooks us, gets viewers engaged immediately. But it's our job as actors to get to what is traveling underneath [the surface of the story]." And beneath the surface of the story - and what most appeals to him about it - is the idea that love is sustaining, that real love is more than romance.
"Part of the reason I wanted to do this film," he continues, "was because Jennifer Jason Leigh was going to be in it, and she is an actress who engages me immediately. She tries things; she makes every scene a little different."
Scott says that unlike theater, where the script is the most important element, a shooting script for a television movie is most often just a blueprint. The actors and director mold the film together as they work; making movies like this one can be even more of a collaborative effort than producing a play.
The right director is as crucial to the actor as the right actor is to the director. Scott found working with Mr. Curtis was another major plus on this project because Curtis strives for excellence.
Then, too, Curtis and Scott share an interest in the Civil War. The battlefield scenes were re-created by a group of dedicated "reenactors."
"Working with the reenactors was great fun," says Curtis. "I only had one day to shoot those scenes in - but these reenactors live and breathe the era."
His best advice, he says, came not from books but from his first assistant director. "He is a Civil War nut; everything was absolutely real, authentic. All I had to do was figure out where to put the camera."