If you’re looking for a post war-time era, light romantic drama, then The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society might be just the film for you. Based on the 2008 novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, with a screenplay by Don Roos (Marley and Me), Kevin Hood (Becoming Jane), and Thomas Bezucha (Big Eden), and directed by Mike Newell, whose most famous credit is 1994’s now-classic rom-com, Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society manages to strike that crowd-pleasing and difficult to find balance between overly serious and schmaltzy.
In 1946, author Juliet Ashton (Lily James) begins exchanging letters with Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman), and becomes fascinated with his stories of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and its activities during the war. She decides, impulsively, that she wants to write about the society, and takes off to Guernsey to meet its members, much to the dismay of her publisher. Once there, she discovers that there seem to be some secrets being kept by the society, that no one is willing to talk to her about. Realising that more is at stake here than her book, she slowly begins to piece together the story of what really happened to this group during the war.
It’s a sweetly simple story really: intimate and restrained. But the joy is in its telling, and in watching and hoping that things turn out as one feels they should. Visually it’s incredibly attractive, with the post-war indulgences of a flourishing London writer set in contrast to the barely avoided poverty of the still-struggling residents of previously occupied Guernsey. It also flashes back to war-time, as the islanders begin to open up to Juliet and tell their stories, and although there is nothing really harrowing here, these are the parts of the story that are a little harder to watch, with real fear and suffering behind the positivity that the members of the society strive to maintain.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is also very much a character drama as well as a period piece. There is a wonderfully restrained attraction between impulsive and elegant Juliet, and careful and down-to-earth Dawsey. The society itself is made up of a range of distinctive and likeable characters (Jessica Brown Findlay, Katherine Parkinson, Tom Courtenay, Penelope Wilton). And then there’s Juliet’s ebullient American fiancé Mark (Glen Powell), and her sweetly restrained publisher, Sidney (Matthew Goode), both of whom flesh out a believable cast that really mesh well together.
There is a lightness of touch here, in the handling of both the comedy and romance aspects of the overall drama. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is not a rom-com, and so there is no over-the-top hilarity, merely pointedly amusing moments, and small, understated giggles. More than anything, it makes one smile, and does so precisely where and when it intends. The romantic aspect sets overblown and awkward against one another, both of which play into the film’s comic moments.
The DVD release has a small amount of extra features: a couple of two minute promo pieces – ‘Story’, and ‘Book to Screen’; an eleven minute look at ‘The History Behind the Film: The Occupation of Guernsey’; and interviews, ranging from approximately four to eight minutes each, with six members of the cast and crew. Nothing overly impressive, but enough to add extra interest to the movie itself.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a delightful and uplifting piece of work: a quiet meander through the small moments that create and consolidate friendship, and an exploration of how art can sustain us during the worst of times.
This STUDIOCANAL release is already available on Digital Download and releases on Blu-ray and DVD today, 27 August 2018. Also, why not check out our review from its theatrical run back in April?