Why, oh why, do they not make more films like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society? As complicated as the title may be, the film fills you with a sense of comfort and familiarity, much like sinking into an armchair with all your favourite pillows to provide company.
Featuring a mostly British cast well-versed with family drama in a period setting, the film tells the story of a young writer, Juliet Ashton (Lily James), who visits Guernsey after the second world war and eventually gets drawn into the story of some of the locals. The film is based on Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s book of the same title and gleans its story from the series of letters that constitute the book. If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, the film provides another chance to see some familiar faces in a familiar setting; no fewer than four key roles are assayed by those who made an appearance in the blockbuster TV series.
The story kicks off when Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman), a Guernsey resident and pig-farmer, writes to Juliet to request the name and address of a London bookshop where he could purchase works of Charles Lamb. As fate would have it, an old copy of Lamb’s The Selected Essays of Elia – replete with Juliet’s address – has made its way to Guernsey and is now in Dawsey’s possession. The Society, its curious name, and the remarkable tale behind its creation triggers an exchange of letters which finally results in Juliet cancelling all her book tours to visit the island, to the distress of her publisher, Sidney Stark (Matthew Goode). When on the island, the relative animosity of Amelia Maugery (Penelope Wilton) and the mystery surrounding Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay) propel the story forward.
The film’s director, Mike Newell, has done a commendable job in re-creating the post-war period’s aura and preserving the Britishness of the film. From the big, red London buses trundling down the road to the vibrant hues of Guernsey’s landscape, the film captures a slice of life that lingers long after you leave the cinema.
At a time when low-budget, independent movies are enjoying something of a renaissance, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society shows that a good script, backed by good performances, is key to winning hearts. Although some could find the film a bit twee, it is a decent specimen of British filmmaking – a domain where talent has traditionally superseded fickle stardom.
Image: Studio Canal