It has a long title, but the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a delightfully entertaining romp executed by a top British cast.
Three members from the hit TV series, Downton Abbey, feature in Mike Newell’s period piece, showing another facet of their acting capabilities.
They are Lily James, who has a pivotal role, Penelope Wilton and Jessica Findley Brown. Lily James, given darker hair, portrays Juliet Anderson. She is a London-based writer who is invited to Guernsey by handsome pig farmer Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman from Game of Thrones) to speak at the book group, formed in 1941 during the Nazi occupation.
She accepts because it’s her way of wriggling out of an impending promotional tour for her latest book, a volume of sketches on wartime life.
Set in 1946, the aftermath of World War II, with memories still vivid and emotions remaining high, Juliet discovers a whole new world on Guernsey. She is so stirred by these doughty inhabitants and their stories that she wants to write another, more serious book about their experiences during the war. But not everybody is happy about this.
The other members of this society are postmaster Eben (Tom Courteney) and his grandson Eli (Kit Connor), gin maker Isola (Katherine Parkinson) and mother hen Amelia (Penelope Wilton). During the occupation they met on a weekly basis for a momentary escape from the German boots tramping the cobbles outside. When Juliet joins them there is a question mark hanging over the whereabouts of Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay), the group’s one-time mainstay whose absence no one seems keen to discuss.
This “mystery” adds another dimension to the dynamic of the story. Mike Newell’s film is an irresistible mix of comedy, a travelogue and a whodunnit, with wartime flashbacks and a love triangle thrown in for good measure. This well-crafted enterprise is Newell’s adaptation of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s epistolary novel.
The diverse range of characters and the wonderful location are used to good effect and Newell allows each of his characters to expand. They come across as warm and funny, but a few are hiding closely-guarded secrets. As a key figure, James gives a beautifully nuanced performance. This production elevates the spirit.