Film review: ‘THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of those quirky film titles that suggests a twee lightweight rom com. While this charming film, based on the 2008 novel of the same name by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, has a touch of romance and is set amid some idiosyncratic country folk, it rides a dark undercurrent making it a more potent drama than we might have expected.

Lily James, who is one of three Downton Abbey cast members in this film, stars as up and coming author Juliette Ashton whose wistful novels have delighted post-war England. In 1946, while in the middle of a frenzied book signing tour she receives a fan letter from a literary-inclined pig famer Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman) who lives on the island of Guernsey. Describing his love of Juliet’s work he invites her to attend The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society book club which began as a secret group during the Nazi occupation. Intrigued, Juliette travels to the windswept island and begins to fall in love with the odd assortment characters who make up the society including the male model-like hog farmer Dawsey. Juliet discovers, however, that a hidden war-time tragedy has left a community wracked with anguish.

With a moving story, endearing performances, fine period detail and a dash of Second World War drama, this is a mostly satisfying film. As Juliette, Lily James makes a very likeable heroine, one who is treated as a celebrity but encounters secrecy and resentment when she begins to probe the island community about a mysterious resident.

With its host of quirky local characters and bucolic setting the film at times resembles those slightly twee British provincial TV shows that filled Saturday night schedules in the 90’s but it’s ultimately a much more affecting drama.

Director Mike Newell, who helmed arguably the best of the Harry Potter films, The Goblet of Fire, effectively balances quirkiness with a pervading sadness as the locals begin to reveal the truth of the Nazi occupation.

As the title also suggests the film is also about the love of literature and stories and book lovers will enjoy spotting references to classic literature such as the works of Shakespeare and Jane Austen.

The film occasionally loses momentum and meanders about but there aren’t too many flat spots.

For a film experience that is the antithesis of Avengers: Infinity War, the very likeable if flawed Potato Peel makes a welcome palette cleanser.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Drama/ romance.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Mike Newell.

Release date: 19th April 2018.

Running time: 124 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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