THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY (USA / UK / 12A / 124 mins)
Directed by Mike Newell. Starring Lily James, Michael Huisman, Matthew Goode, Jessica Brown Findlay, Tom Courtenay, Penelope Wilton.
THE PLOT: Post-war London. Juliet (Lily James) is an avid reader and an even more passionate writer. Her latest book on Anne Bronte wasn’t exactly a bestseller. Still, her publisher Sidney (Matthew Goode) has confidence in her cheerful approach to life. Juliet is contacted by Guernsey resident Dawsey (Michael Huisman) about tracking down a Shakespeare book. He relates a brief story about his book club, The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society and how it gave them hope during the German occupation. Intrigued, Juliet heads to the small island in the English Channel to find out more. There, she meets the other members of the Society including the bitter Amelia (Penelope Wilton), who objects to Juliet writing about their wartime experiences. However, this is a story that needs to be told… THE VERDICT: Forget the marquee-busting title, which is amusingly poked at the by the film itself. Within this quirky potato peel pie lies a sweet, pleasant and occasionally moving centre. It’s also more than a little bit predictable, but more on that later. It’s based on the book by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer and features the little-seen Channel Island of Guernsey as both a subject and a character in itself. Its unfamiliarity (to this reviewer anyway) is part of the film’s charm, relating how a small group of islanders and book lovers tried to retain their humanity while a devastating war raged across Europe.
Director Mike Newell sets the scene early on with our main character, establishing her as a curious soul who is interested in people as much as places. He also sketches out the islanders early on, ensuring that they don’t come across as stereotypical country yokels who might be suspicious of big city folk (well, except for Bronagh Gallagher’s hilariously prim hotel manager). As Juliet discovers more about the Society, she peels away the layers of pain that resulted during the War and discovers some dark truths about how their lives were affected. This is where the script and Newell’s delivery of it is the strongest. There’s no judgment here, just compassion for their circumstances.
The weaker element of the film is in Juliet’s own personal life. She’s engaged to be married to a decent American (Glen Powell). As soon as she arrives on Guernsey though, one can see which way the wind is going to blow. Therein lies the predictability of the film, which easily plays into it and even sets up a romcom-style last minute rush. The film is smart enough to do without that sort of well-worn, groan-inducing cliché. Still, ‘The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society’ has more than enough of the tasty stuff (good character development, solid performances, pretty locales) to warrant a light recommendation. It’s a pleasant Sunday afternoon film and won’t leave a bad taste in the mouth, like a certain pie. RATING: 3 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor