Film Review – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Directed: Mike Newell

Writer: Don Roost, Kevin Hood, Thomas Bezucha (screenplay), Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows (Novel)

Starring: Lily James, Michiel Huisman , Penelope Wilton

Tagline: “Find love in unexpected places”

Trivia: The scenes for Weymouth docks were filmed on the quayside outside the “M Shed” on Bristol’s harbor side. You can see that the railway trucks (obscuring the modern glassed frontage of the museum) have “Avonmouth Docks” written on some of them. These docks are at the mouth of the Avon about four miles down river from Bristol.

This one is to all my British friends who had to suffer Brexit. It’s a movie that reminds us on days when being British was something to be proud of. It retells us the story of days when being great had to do with kindness and togetherness and not empty slogans and separation.

There is a danger in period-dramas films. On one hand, they can feel like over-the-top escapist fantasies that transport the viewer to a simpler time, or explore societal concepts gone but that can inform our current experiences.

On the other hand, they can sometimes feel dull and irrelevant, and also often promote conservative, controversial ideas. For me, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (definitely a name which is one of the problems of the movie) fell a little into both camps, but despite this, I found myself absorbed and enjoying it tremendously.  

Just after World War II, author Juliet (Lily James) travels to the island of Guernsey to meet members of the titular society who used literature as a way of dealing with their wartime struggles.

On the way, she makes new friends, discovers new romance beyond her dashing American fiancé, and uncovers some dark secrets that the society sought to keep hidden forever.

Though you may guess some plot developments early on, particularly concerning the romantic subplots, the main thrust of the story is the tale of what happened in Guernsey before Juliet arrived, and how the past will affect the present – a plot-line that kept me guessing incorrectly what would happen next.

Mike Newell’s adaptation of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s novel is a film you don’t spend time with so much as spend time IN: every location in this irresistible romantic mystery is like a little mini-break for the soul, every costume and piece of set-dressing is gorgeous, and every character a pleasure to keep company with, even the scoundrels.

Newell excels as a director of well-picked ensembles (Four Weddings and a Funeral). Here again, he gives each of his cast members just enough room to stretch: an expansive witticism here, a hushed monologue there, and sometimes, both at once.

Lily James leads the ensemble but she isn’t alone in this. Her co-cast members, Michiel Huisman as Dawsey Adams gives a marvellous performance as a man who maybe was lost in his years of guilt, worry, and agony, but has a new-found sense of inspiration, lightness, and admiration that is emotionally moving.

For the emotional and tear-jerking performance, look to Penelope Wilton as Amelia Maugery; for the sweet and fun performance that makes you want to take a shot of gin with joy, we’re gifted with Katherine Parkinson as Isola Pribby; the man who makes us all want to read a book and feel ashamed it wasn’t yesterday we were reading it, Mr. Tom Courtenay as Eben Ramsey; and finally, Matthew Goode as Sidney Stark, Lily’s gay publisher, who lights up the screen each time he appears together with her, in a relationship similar to the endearing one Julia Roberts had with Rupert Everett in My Best Friend’s Wedding.

Don’t get me wrong; there are considerable flaws in this film, yet they aren’t quite enough to torpedo the abundance of good feeling it delivers. 

Our characters are written the way they need to be, the story has just enough ‘mystery’ to get us through, and the genuine chemistry on screen really tied the ribbon on top of this gift.

With incredible sights to see, simple and yet moving character arcs and story, and a lovely touch of romance, it’s worth checking out.

To sum it all – this is definitely ‘comfort food’ for fans of period dramas like me, but fortunately a nutritious one.

Verdict – 4/5 Stars in my book


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