Post-War Pen Pals
Film Review: “The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society”
A charmer in every way. . . the period story of a writer who’s lured to a remote British island after WWII to meet the members of a tiny book club, whose spell on her will change the trajectory of her life forever.
Adapted from the cherished novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece, Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society is as close to perfect as a historical romance can get. With an inspired casting boasting three Downton Abbey alumnae, TGLPPS is the story of an idealistic young novelist from London who is searching for meaning and finds it on the remote island of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands.
Lily James stars as Juliet Ashton, a rising star in the post-war London literary world who seems to have it all. A promising career with a growing fan base, and a dashing and wealthy American suitor who’s intent on sweeping her off her feet with grand gestures and hordes of red roses. For all her sunny sweetness and prospects, though, there’s a shadow over Juliet’s heart stemming from a wartime trauma from which she can’t quite shake herself loose. One day she receives a letter out of the blue from a gentleman on the island of Guernsey who saw her name and address scribbled inside the cover of a book which he and his book club were eager to obtain more copies. The strange name of the club: the Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society. He goes on to explain the origins of the name, recounting the German Army’s occupation of Guernsey and the incident in which — quite literally to save their hides — he and his fellow neighbors made up a fake book club in order not to be arrested by the enemy. It’s then that the film takes place in two parallel time periods: the present day in which Juliet makes her way to Guernsey to meet this wonderfully strange but alluring group of people, and the flashbacks to the not so distant past in which the members of the Society are thrown together in a dramatic tale of heroism and sacrifice.
The place and its people, together with a romantic yearning completely new to Juliet, work their magic on her imagination and her soul. Before long, she must make the ultimate decision about whether to return to her London life or take a chance and follow her heart.
Renowned British film director, Mike Newell (Four Weddings & A Funeral; Donnie Brasco; Enchanted April; Into The West) took a beloved book and made what will be an almost equally beloved film. ‘Almost’ because of the baked-in handicap of movie adaptations of books, and also because at its heart, TGLPPPS is very much a formulaic genre picture, saved from predictability by virtue of an exceptional cast, a deeply thoughtful screenplay, precise production detail, and scenery that knocks all the cynical breath out of the jaded viewer.
A word about these characters, so vividly and respectfully brought to life by — among others — Penelope Wilton, Jessica Brown Findlay, Tom Courtenay, and Michiel Huisman with a stunning performance from Lily James at the center. Something wonderful always happens in the best of pictures; it’s that moment when you’re not sure how but suddenly you find yourself caring very much — indeed holding your breath at times — about what befalls them. They become that real to you, that dear to you. At least that’s been my experience in the past and very much so in this beautiful and special film.
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society is presently streaming on Netflix.
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