The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society is a well-integrated blend of romance, mystery and history. Absorbing, moving and highly entertaining.
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society is quite a mouthful of a title, and so is the pie from which it partly derives. Brought to the inaugural meeting of the Society by local postmaster Eben (Tom Courtenay), who had only potatoes to cook with as a result of food privations imposed by the Germans occupying Guernsey in WW2, said pie is almost impossible to swallow. Not so the tale that unfolds in the course of this finely crafted period piece, which defies neat categorisation. It is a well-integrated blend of romance, mystery and history, and works a treat.
The bizarrely named Society, a book club whose inception, we soon learn, was distinctly non-literary, comes to the attention of emerging post-WW2 London-based writer Juliet Ashton (a radiant Lily James), when one of its members, farmer Dawsey (Michiel Huisman), writes seeking her assistance in tracking down an elusive book. A regular correspondence ensues between them.
Intrigued by the Society, and to the frustration of her publisher (Matthew Goode) and mild bemusement of her American GI fiancé (Glen Powell), Juliet visits Guernsey for three days to meet the Society members, hoping the venture might provide material for her next book.
The characters that make up the Society are a disparate and colourful lot. They are not necessarily sophisticated readers but approach the books they discuss with unbridled enthusiasm. There’s lonely-heart Isola (Katherine Parkinson), who keeps the meetings well-lubed with her home-made gin. There’s grief-stricken matron Amelia (Penelope Wilton), haunted by the fate unknown of her daughter Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findlay), whom we get to know in flashback. And of course, Dawsey, who has unofficially adopted Elizabeth’s gorgeous little orphaned daughter.
Juliet soon discovers that the Society is hanging on to some dark wartime secrets, and extends her stay as she goes on the hunt for answers. She ends up finding more than she bargained for, and facing some life-changing decisions.
The story is absorbing, the scandal and heartbreak at its core revealed bit by bit in the manner of a murder mystery, as it flits back and forth between the period of German occupation of Guernsey and the narrative present a few years hence.
The romantic elements are somewhat predictable (you know from the outset that Juliet’s fiancé is a bad fit for her, and it is soon obvious who she’ll end up with). Entirely forgivable, though, when everything else works so well.
Less so is the melodramatic and clichéd Hollywood-style love-story ending, but by then I was long won over.
Period romance + the casting of several Downton Abbey stars (Lily James, Penelope Wilton, Jessica Brown Findlay, Matthew Goode) = grey demographic target, correct? Well yeah, probably, and The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society will certainly appeal to the older set, but don’t dismiss it on that basis. This is a skilfully managed, moving and all-round entertaining film, beautifully directed, written and performed. It is deserving of box office success before a wide audience.
Movie Website: https://www.guernseymovie.com.au/
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society features: Lily James, Matthew Goode, Michiel Huisman, Katherine Parkinson, Penelope Wilton, Jessica Brown Findlay
Director: Mike Newell
Writers: Kevin Hood, Thomas Bezucha & Don Roos (screenplay), adapted from the novel by Annie Barrows & Mary Ann Shaffer
Runtime: 124 min
Australian release date: The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society in Australian cinemas from 14 April 2018
For complete list of film reviews published on this site see Movie Review Archives