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THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY gets 6.5/10 Peeling back the layers

Directed by Mike Newell
Starring Lily James, Michiel Huisman, Jessica Brown Findlay

6.5/10

If I were to say a post-war romantic tale, from the director of Four Weddings and a Funeral, then The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society wouldn’t be a million miles away from the image that would pop into your head. Which is not a bad thing overall, considering the expectations that this conjures are also met by the film.

Based on the 2008 novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, it tells the tale of author Juliet Ashton (Lily James) who becomes embroiled in a correspondence with a member of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Michiel Huisman). She soon becomes intrigued with the society and travels to the isle of Guernsey with a vague idea for looking into a story about them. However, Juliet becomes enchanted with the characters and the beautiful island that they call home, but she also discovers that they have scars and secrets left by the recent German occupation during the Second World War.

The novel origins of this are very evident in the structure of the film, and the way it prioritises character development and the slow unraveling of the underlying tale. If you can relax into that gentle pace, then The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society can win you over with it’s host of quirky characters, and plethora of charm. Its solid cast of jobbing actors play a host of engaging characters that audiences really don’t mind sharing time with, and allowing them to breathe and untangle the (admittedly somewhat slight) mystery at the heart of the society.

It also doesn’t hurt that that all this is set against an intriguing background, both historically and physically. Historically both the post war rebuilding period of 1946 and the atmosphere of celebratory revelry surrounding it, and the island occupation of Guernsey by Nazi Germany are under-explored parts of history, at least in cinema, and offer something out of the ordinary. Similarly the lush, windswept Guernsey countryside offers a visual treat – even if it is a recreation mostly shot in Devon and Cornwall (due to both modernisation and a rather busy shipping lane near Guernsey). This enhances the romanticism evident in the work, increasing that sense of wonder about the place, and the people that have made it their home. Honestly, it would do the Bronte sisters proud.

In this regard Lily James (Cinderella, Baby Driver) makes an appropriate heroine, demonstrating intellectual curiosity, romantic longing and most importantly proper manners. She breathes life into the character of Juliet bringing out more than just the stereotypical romantic lead, despite being unable to give much spark to the film’s rather weak romantic triangle. Yet, as stated previously, it really is the members of the literary society that steal the show, from Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) exuding irascibility, to the wondrously idiosyncratic Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd), they are just a joy to spend time with.

A pleasing film, rather than a great one, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will certainly win over its demographic with a plethora of charm and the beauty of its setting.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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