The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is more than just a simple love story or that of two penpals in post war Britain. This film shines a light on a forgotten part of World War 2. We’ve had the bombastic storytelling with 2017’s Dunkirk, but 2018 is now shining a light on the intimate, personal experiences of this war first with The Darkest Hour. In Guernsey Potato Peel Pie we get to see how ordinary people turned into everyday heroes and their struggle for survival. After the tears and bloodshed are gone it’s the stories that remain and remind us of the courage of others. You will be enthralled and amazed by the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is based on the adaptation of the novel by Mary Ann Shaffer finished by her niece Annie Barrows and brought to life by the director of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mike Newell. So whilst the subject matter is rather serious there is a lightness of touch and it is told at such a cracking pace that keeps the action moving.
The story is that of Juliet Ashton (Lily James), a writer living in Blitzed London who receives a commission from the Times to write a story about reading habits. At the same time, she receives a mysterious letter from Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman), a farmer from Guernsey enquiring about a book since he saw her name and address written in it. So begins their correspondence, followed by her visit to Guernsey and culminating in a most unexpected scoop.
The film’s opening scene starts off in 1941 Nazi occupied Guernsey and we discover the origins of the rather inventive Potato Peel Pie. The Nazis took all their pigs from Guernsey and made the farmers grow potatoes as pig feed. When caught by Nazi soldiers after curfew, Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay), the brightest and quickest thinking of the group saves them all by inventing this rather ludicrous sounding name and the postmaster and inventor of the pie, Eben Ramsey (Tom Courtenay), dutifully helps by vomiting up the said pie. They are then forced to breathe life into this made up book club and, it is the reading that does save them during their darkest hours.
The action moves to London and we see Juliet with her editor about to embark on a book tour. The film engages as the action moves between London and Guernsey. It is only when it is fully focused on Guernsey that it starts to wane. However, Guernsey Literary Society never feels glib. Yes, the eccentricities of the characters are played up but there’s a real nostalgia and pride in watching how resilient those individuals were in the face of mortal danger. The supporting cast is a who’s who of British acting but they somehow manage to truly incorporate their characters and work as an ensemble. This feels very much like a Lily James film and she does very well in carrying the film and is luminous on screen. It is beautifully shot and for the most part engrossing, however, had 30 minutes been knocked off it would have been perfect. The ending when it did come was not a surprise but might well have been had the film been that tad bit shorter!
It is an inventive mixture of courage, love and literature as inventive as Potato Peel Pie itself!
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society opens in cinemas across the UK on Friday 20 April.
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