Mike Newell’s charming adaptation of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s bestselling novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is as typically British as a rainy summer’s afternoon, and as wonderfully intriguing as its tongue-twisting title would suggest.
Set in London and Guernsey during and shortly after the end of the Second World War, the film relies heavily on nostalgia with its near-perfect attention to period detail, and tells a deeply moving, if at times a little contrived, story of romance and mystery during and after the occupation of the Channel Islands by Nazi forces.
Lily James (Cinderella, Downton Abbey) is Juliet, a free-spirited writer who despite the success of her most recent novel is still struggling to find inspiration after the traumatic experiences she encountered during the Blitz. Poised to accept an imminent proposal from her doting American officer beau Mark (Glen Powell), which could see her move to New York for a new life, Juliet finds herself intrigued by a letter she receives from a Guernsey pig-farmer named Dawsey (Michiel Huisman) regarding a mysterious and strangely named book club founded during the occupation.
Abandoning, at the eleventh hour, an upcoming countrywide tour to promote her latest book, Juliet heads for Guernsey to meet Dawsey and his merry gang in the hope of writing about them, but she soon finds herself charmed by the island and puzzled by a story involving a member of the book club, played by Jessica Brown Findlay, and the huge secret everyone is determined to keep from her. Learning of the hardships the islanders went through at the hands of the cruel and callous Nazi invaders, Juliet can’t help but feel a kinship towards them and soon finds herself compelled to lend a hand in solving the mystery
Four Weddings and a Funeral director Newell does a fantastic job in representing post-war London exactly as one would expect. His female protagonists are as exceptionally well turned-out as their male counterparts are dashingly handsome, like any of the era’s matinee idols.
By offering a universally accepted image of Britain, with all its irresistibly twee and comforting quirks, Newell also succeeds in installing a sense of familiarity and adventure within the story — which was, after all, originally written by Americans — Shaffer became ill and asked her niece to edit and revise the book for her.
James puts in a perfectly adequate turn as the hugely likeable Juliet, while Huisman does his best in a role which doesn’t seem to require much more of him than to look suitably rugged.
Elsewhere, Matthew Goode is remarkable as Juliet’s doting and sardonic publisher Sidney, while Tom Courtenay, Penelope Wilton and Katherine Parkinson are commendable as the rest of the members of the book club.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is twee to a fault, but don’t let that put you off from enjoying this romantic and beautifully acted production.