The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)
When you wait for something, big or small, anticipation builds. Not unlike that childhood wonder of Christmas, and the joy of ripping paper off presents under a tree. This is the case with the new period drama The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; an adaptation that’s as heartwarming as it is jolting.
For Londoners, the war is over, but the aftereffects still plague many. This includes Juliet Ashton (Lily James), a young woman who finds joy in life, but who also suffered a great deal of loss during the war. As she reclaims some sense of normalcy, she receives a letter from a man called Dawsey Adams.
A resident of the island, Guernsey, once occupied by Germans, Dawsey is a man who’s seen too much with very little joy in the recent years. One of the things that brings he and his neighbors solace and peace is the world of books. A world which introduced him to Juliet when he discovers a book with her name scribbled on the inside page. It’s a discovery that sends Juliet’s life down an unexpected road to friendship, joy and the power of love.
There’s something about this genre that resonates on a deep level with viewers. What it is, I cannot put my finger on. As I sat down on a Sunday evening watching the story unfold (and feeling a tiny bit of confusion), somehow still the story resonates in a way I cannot explain. To be honest, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society disappoints, but in some ways, its flaws strengthen it. SPOILER WARNING: there will be general spoilers, so if you don’t want to read them, skip to the closing paragraph.
To be fair, this film isn’t short on stunning moments that steal our breath, but as I say, it isn’t perfect. In fact, one of the greatest flubs of the script is that it makes Juliet out to be something of a fib. Of course, I don’t mean she goes around lying to everyone, but rather that she isn’t upfront about everything she’s written or her engagement. The plot differs also from the way it’s written (including the fact that the Society doesn’t roll out the welcome mat – and I miss that Juliet already “knows” everyone by her arrival in Guernsey). All of which are complications that receive better treatment in the novel. This story is better than this, as is Juliet. The set up of the plot is also a little dizzying, especially if you’ve not read the novel.
Fortunately, my thoughts don’t end here otherwise all this suggests is that I don’t care for this adaptation. I do. In fact, I suspect I’ll enjoy a second viewing a great deal more than the initial. As a novel, this story has a great deal of heart. Here, there’s more sorrow, and loss of hope whereas the novel understands its characters have been through terrible things, but they’ve come out with hope. They don’t want the past to rule how they step into the future. This is a rare and beautiful thing, and is something I admire about the book. It’s a quality you don’t often discover in books, so when you do, it’s worth clinging to.
Directed by Mike Newell, the master behind Great Expectations (2012), this cast is absolutely brilliant. I adore everyone involved in this project. Lily James’ is gorgeous and memorable as the heroine (I only wish the script gave allowance for her to showcase Juliet’s bright side more); Penelope Wilson brilliant; Katherine Parkinson is a sweetheart as Isola; Matthew Goode is cheeky as Sid; and there there’s Michiel Huisman as Dawsey Adams. He’s kind, bookishly quiet, and perfectly swoon-y as the beloved character. Also, it’s wonderful to see Michiel in something after The Age of Adaline. Jessica Brown-Findlay (Downton Abbey) also stars as Elizabeth, though sadly, we don’t get to know her well.
Complaints aside, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society adaptation is lovely. The costumes are a story in and of themselves, and I love the freedom of the setting. It’s open, beautiful and windswept. It’s in the little add ins that this film shines. Things like Mark’s spot on characterization (I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the subtle, but tender moment of his exit); the end credit voice overs; or the heady anticipation of romance. To be fair, I do appreciate all that the writers have to accomplish to adapt this story (the novel is an epistolary format). I admire them because they have so much space to work with and can imagine anything happens against any backdrop or emotion.
As the credits roll I did have a silly, big grin on my face. The story is altered, yes, but there’s still something magnetic about the tale on film. It’s elegant with a cast that is anything but weak.
(This post does contain affiliate links; if you buy anything through these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Read the disclosure page for details.) Before seeing the film, check out the novel available on Amazon Kindle or as a paperback.
Content: There is a “tense” situation or two. There may be a mild innuendo or two. The film is rated TV-14.
Photos: NetflixThe Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society – Hope and Heart. A beautiful #Netflix adaptation with Lily James (Cinderella, #DownotnAbbey) of the classic novel. #WhattoWatch #PeriodDrama Click To Tweet