- Absolutely British and proud to be so
- Easy-going but enjoyable enough story
- A little too long and the mystery can sometimes be a little underwhelming
- Predictable plot
- Heart-warming characters and solid performances
- Ultimately unremarkable, but perfectly pleasant
There’s a strange genre that seems to have been around for a few decades now. Some may call them comedy, drama, romance… though usually they incorporate genre tropes from all three. Yet the most common element that runs through them all is that they are 1.) sweet, 2.) able to be enjoyed universally and 3.) unequivocally British – with the crème-de-la-crème of UK thespians and, quite often, set during WWII. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (no, the title doesn’t get easier to say the more you try) absolutely fits alongside those types of films being lovely in every sense (though sometimes a bit too lovely) with a pleasant story and great cast. Still, there’s nothing special or unique about the film itself that allows it go above and beyond the existing classics.
Set just after the War in 1946, successful writer Juliet Ashton (Lily James) is struggling to appease both her publisher and confidante Sidney (Matthew Goode) as well as her American boyfriend Mark (Glen Powell) in London. However, when she receives a letter from a Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman) in the island of Guernsey, she’s intrigued by the story behind the formation of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – a name that came from trying to keep a pig secret. Keen to meet these fascinating people, she journeys over to the island and joins one of their gatherings, meeting Dawsey along with Isola (Katherina Parkinson), Eben (Tom Courtenay) and Amelia (Penelope Wilton) – yet she’s curious about the notable absence of the group’s founder, Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findlay), whom she is told is away. Unable to ignore such a mystery, she stays a while longer at Guernsey, getting to know the inhabitants and slowly unravelling the mystery behind Elizabeth’s disappearance.
It’s an easy-going, yet interesting story that effortlessly commands an audience. On the other hand, however, it takes a while for the story to get going, eventually exacerbating the other issue of the film being too long for what it is (ideally a film such as this would run in between 90 to 105 minutes). On top of this, the plot is fairly predictable; it’s not too challenging to guess the ending before even the half-way mark. Still, it balances the stories of Juliet’s relationships with the hunt for Elizabeth well, making the film part mystery – although it is admittedly a shame that most revelations concerning Elizabeth’s eventual disappearance rarely seem like ground-breaking discoveries. Still, it’s an enjoyable story, but this is mainly down to the characters who make it up.
The real joy of the characters is not only watching them open up to Juliet and slowly tell her the story of Elizabeth’s disappearance piece by piece, but by getting to know them and seeing their personalities unfold before us. This is strengthened by solid performances of heart-warming, well-written characters. Even the more secondary characters aren’t glossed over and make genuine contributions to the film. From Goode’s the paternal publisher to the smarmy Powell’s American boyfriend, able to carefully tread the line between being simultaneously charming and repulsive. The group of society members themselves are the ones at the very heart of the film itself. These characters are the highlight of the movie, each of them unique and individual, able to portray the connection between the characters in what they do and say. Lily James once again proves to be a wonderful lead, charismatic and lovely to watch. And of course even the island of Guernsey itself is a key character; gorgeously filmed and really evoking the true beauty of the island. It’s a quasi-love letter to Guernsey that’s sure to attract a fair bit of tourism in the next couple of years.
It’s difficult to predict a Mike Newell film when he’s so diverse; from directing the likes of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to Four Weddings and a Funeral, there isn’t anything specific we can expect from him, other than he has the ability to craft entertaining and enjoyable films – though nothing quite as iconic since Four Weddings. The story and writing are enjoyable and the cast really sell it; while it may be ultimately unremarkable, it’s nevertheless perfectly pleasant. An ideal film to watch with your feet up on a lazy Sunday afternoon with the whole family.