There is nothing that cements the period between awards season and summer blockbuster season quite like a strangely titled, twee British drama starring all of the tried and tested period piece players from the last decade. Before cinema screens are overrun with Marvel fans clambering to see Avengers: Infinity War, my friend and I, accompanied by perhaps five interested pensioners, chose to partake in something a little more slow paced and quaint than the world saving antics of Thor, Ironman and co.!
Based on a 2008 novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society tells the story of Juliet Ashton (Lily James), a successful writer who travels from London to post occupation Guernsey to investigate a bizarre and quirky sounding book club, originally established on the island as an excuse to the Germans for being out after curfew, and now a genuine club that holds one or two secrets Juliet certainly didn’t expect. From the handsome rugged farmer to the eccentric illegal gin making spinster to the altogether more sinister and mysterious disappearance of one of the group’s beloved members years before, the narrative progresses as a gentle, moderately paced mystery/drama/romance with all the familiar feel of a comfortable British historical piece.
Guernsey isn’t the best, most gripping, captivating film you are likely to see this year (or even this month), but neither is it the worst. In fact, the picture is so decidedly average that one struggles to come up with interesting enough talking points for a review! From the familiar faces involved to the familiar historical themes to the familiar predictability of the plot, there is nothing that particularly stands out about the film at all, but in fairness, there is definitely a time and place for this kind of pleasant, congenial story telling, so I can’t be too mad at it. On the whole, the film looks good, with the island of Guernsey providing a different and slightly more interesting setting to the WWII pictures that we are used to seeing. The rolling hills, cobbled streets and quaint cottages certainly make for attractive viewing, even if the story being told does feel a little paint by numbers at times.
Barring a few expensive looking Blitz shots, there isn’t anything especially cinematic about the film. With a cast that are instantly recognisable from various iconic television shows and performances, and an overall tone and vibe only slightly more engaging than the like of Midsomer Murders and Miss Marple, you can’t help but feel that the story would have been equally as effective (and perhaps reached more of its target demographic) as a two hour Sunday night TV event. Like I said, there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with this. Not all cinema has to be challenging or innovative or outside of the box, it just so happens that most of the cinema I personally enjoy the most is like that. In all fairness, Guernsey was never going to be a favourite for me, but I think my friend had a much better time of things!
It’s probably fair to say that the film’s cast are its best asset. At this point, I’m convinced Lily James is an actual woman from the past who just time travels in to the 21st century to do a little acting work. I’ve seen her in Downton Abbey, War & Peace, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies and The Darkest Hour, and she’s so authentic and enjoyable in each of them. It’s harder than it seems to be able to portray a historical character convincingly, and there aren’t many young actresses around right now who can profess to be such a period piece professional.
Making up the titular Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society are the likes of Penelope Wilton, Jessica Brown Findlay, Katherine Parkinson and Tom Courtenay, all seasoned pros at this point and all giving performances that help to add texture to the story. Parkinson in particular as Isola Pribby, the eccentric boot leg gin maker, provides a lot of lighthearted enjoyment that balances out some of the more dramatic and sombre moments undertaken by Penelope Wilton and Jessica Brown Findlay.
As Dawsey Adams, the handsome pig farmer who becomes an inevitable love interest for Juliet, Michiel Huisman is suitably stubbled and loose shirted. Together, the pair share a strong enough chemistry to carry the romantic subplot, but it’s certainly not an on screen romance that is going to go down in the history books.
Overall, The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society, with its exceedingly long title, is a film that does exactly what it say on the tin. A comfortable, pleasant period drama that adds yet another variation of tale to the ever expanding WWII cinematic repertoire. You won’t be blown away, but you also won’t be bored. It’s about as three out of five as you could hope to see. Some warm humour, some melodrama, some romance. Voila.