THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY or the potato film—as someone called it at the preview I attended—is the movie adaptation of the 2008 novel of the same name by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
The story concerns a London author called Juliet Ashton (Lily James). The Second World War is recently ended and she has had some success writing a humorous column under a pseudonym, these collected works are the subject of her latest book and she has, with some reluctance, embarked upon a book tour. She is looking for more serious subjects to pursue despite the urgings of her friend and publisher that she continue writing her comedic columns under her semi-successful pen-name.
London is celebrating emerging from six years of war and Juliet is being romanced by a U.S. military man Mark Reynolds. She is enjoying life, but is somewhat frustrated that her work doesn’t amount to much in her own estimation. She is intrigued when a stranger, a farmer from the Channel island of Guernsey, writes to her after discovering her name inscribed in an old book. The farmer, called Dawsey Adams, tells a story about the group he was part of called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society that was established during the Nazi Occupation of the island. The details of the society, a kind of hastily convened book club, and how it was a refuge from The Occupation, grabs her attention. Her authorial instincts tells her there could be more to this story, so Juliet arranges to halt her book tour and head for Guernsey in order to meet the members of the society.
During this time, Mark makes it clear to Juliet that he aims to marry her, so when she arrives in Guernsey, she is in a state of flux. She isn’t completely certain what kind of life she wants to pursue. When she meets Dawsey in person and his young daughter Kit, Juliet is unprepared for the strong feeling of connection she feels to this stranger and to the island. Meeting the other members of the society, she begins to feel strangely at home, but the longer she stays on Guernsey, the more she is convinced that there is an untold story for her to uncover.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (a.k.a TGLAPPPS) is a well-mounted, well-cast, romance and comedy with a serious element that wanders in and out of the story. That element is the Nazi Occupation of the island. This story links to slave labour and to concentration camps. This use of World War Two and the horrors of the Nazis as a sort of background colour is a questionable take on history. As with THE WOMAN IN GOLD, good taste is the order of the day, but how much tastefulness actually falsifies the truth about the Nazis?
At base, TGLAPPPS is aimed at an audience who wants a cosy comedy and a heart-warming romance. Juliet finds herself in a love triangle between the ruggedly handsome, yet kindly farmer, Dawsey (Michiel Huisman) and the slick, American military man, Mark (Glen Powell). We want to see her sort that out and solve the mystery of what actually happened during the war.
English director Mike Newell orchestrates the various parts with a sure hand. This is to be expected as his extensive movie back-catalog includes FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (1994), DONNIE BRASCO (1997), MONA LISA SMILE (2003) and HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE(2005). Lily James is as engaging as required in the lead role. Brit acting veterans Tom Courtenay and Penelope Wilton are on hand to charm us with their English eccentricity in the bucolic surrounds of Guernsey (actually bits of Devon and Cornwall). The IT CROWD’s Katherine Parkinson is present to knock off all her gags with style and to give proceedings an almost Ealing comedy feel. Matthew Goode does an entertaining Rupert Everett-esque turn as Juliet’s publisher Sidney Stark.
See this if you want to enjoy a chocolate-boxy romance with dashes of comedy and charm. Let the the love and the laughs work their magic, as the beastliness of WW2 has a veil of tastefulness drawn over it. If you want to watch attractive young people playing characters who find their soul mate whilst in a gorgeous country setting, this movie utterly delivers. Running time: 122 minutes. (6/10)
The AccessReel interview with Mike Newell is here.