If you follow me on the socials, you’ll know that I recently re-watched the epic 1970 film Love Story for, perhaps, the fourth (shortly followed by the fifth) time in my life. I’m not going to tell you anything that might spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but I am going to tell you a story about how I have carried that film with me since I was a little girl.
I first saw Love Story when I was about 7 or 8 years old.
I was allowed to stay up late to watch “the only tearjerker your father has ever loved” and, in my parents’ defense, it is a PG and it’s mostly set in and around Harvard University – somewhere we had visited on a family holiday the year before (fun fact, it’s one of very few films that was actually filmed on the sacred grounds of Harvard – even Good Will Hunting was filmed in Canada).
I can remember which room of the house we were in when we watched it. I can remember that I was sitting on the floor, glued to the screen.
“Look,” my dad said as Ali Macgraw and Ryan O’Neal walked across Harvard Yard. “You’ve been there.”
And reader I had. I’d stood in that exact spot looking at one of the most famous universities in the world and told my dad that this would be where I’d do my PhD. I don’t know what it says about me that I knew what a PhD was at 7 but there we are. I always was a bookish nerd.
The film was beautiful, wonderful, amazing. It swept young me away and when it was over I cried and cried and cried (if you’ve seen it, you’ll know why).
“Look what you’ve done to her,” my mum whispered.
“I thought she’d like it,” dad replied.
But I did like it.
I liked it so much I never forgot about it. I watched it again in my teens and again later in my twenties after a bad break up (would I never meet my Oliver?) and both times I cried for hours and thought about Oliver and Jenny for weeks afterwards.
I didn’t watch it again until this month. Fifteen years have passed since I last saw it but it remains as wonderful, as beautiful, as amazing as it ever was. Over the years I had forgotten about Oliver and Jenny but, as I watched, I realised how much of their story I had buried in my subconscious and how much of their story had influenced the love stories that I now have the privilege to write.
There is a scene in The Things We Need to Say that is straight out of the penultimate scene of Love Story, although I had no idea that’s where it had come from when I wrote it. Rupert in The Pieces of You and Me bears more than a passing resemblance to Oliver – he even got his PhD from Harvard, and even Edwin in The Many Colours of Us is a lawyer because his father insisted upon it (…’the law needs good men like you’…).
There’s even ice hockey, although let me say that 1970 ice hockey was effing brutal!
My husband (I met my Oliver in the end) had never seen Love Story before. I was nervous he’d hate it, worried he would be ostracised from the family (jk…kinda). But my husband’s favourite film is You’ve Got Mail (he made me change the last scene in my first book because of You’ve Got Mail) so of course he liked it.
“I understand you more now,” he said when it ended. “And I understand why the first drafts of your books are always so bloody tragic.”
Reader, I’m glad I married him.
I never did my PhD at Harvard, or anywhere else in fact – I stopped at the end of my Masters degree. But I do get to do something just as brilliant – I get to write love stories of my own. And now I wonder if any of my books will one day have the effect on somebody that Love Story had on me.
And if nothing else I’ve been reminded once again (and when I really needed it) to be more Jenny.
If you’ve never seen Love Story I (obviously) highly recommend it. It’s £2.99 on Prime and free on Sky Cinema.