Movie Review: The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society

My daughter Elissa recommended this 2018 British film, distributed in the US by Netflix. I had the opportunity to watch it late last night, thinking I’d start the movie and finish it later in the week. I never found a place to hit the pause button, which is a good sign of an excellent film. I watched the whole movie.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society stars Lily James, Jessica Brown Finlay, Tom Courtenay, Michiel Huisman, Katherine Parkinson, Matthew Goode, Glen Powell, Penelope Wilton, Kit Connor and Florence Keen. The historical drama, directed by Mike Newell, is based on the novel by the same name written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. The movie carries a TV-14 rating, for mature themes, and has a run time of 2 hours and 4 minutes.

In the aftermath of WWII, people in England are picking up the shattered pieces of their lives, and attempting to cobble together a new existence. One such person is a young writer, Juliet Ashton (James), who lost her parents during the war. Juliet has found some success as an author, writing under the pen name Izzy Bickerstaff. Her long time friend, and publisher, Sidney Stark (Goode), arranges a contract for her to write a story for the London Times Literary Supplement and a modest book tour, promoting her last book.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Juliet does book readings, attends events, and meets an American member of the Armed Forces, Mark Reynolds (Powell). They begin a whirlwind romance as Juliet ponders what piece to write for the Times. Life is at last going well, and yet Juliet feels restless and unsettled. Her interest and curiosity are captured when she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams (Huisman), who lives on the island of Guernsey, in the English Channel.

Dawsey explains in his letter that he is a member of a literary society that meets every Friday evening. He had come into possession of one of Juliet’s books, and wondered if she could secure another book for him, written by Charles Lamb. Intrigued, Juliet agrees to send the book, in exchange for the story behind the book club’s unusual name, The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

In correspondence between them, Dawsey tells Juliet the story. While the island was under occupation in 1941 by German soldiers, Dawsey and his friends and neighbors, Eben Ramsey (Courtenay) Elizabeth McKenna (Finlay) Isola Pribby (Parkinson) and Amelia Maugery (Wilton) discover that perhaps the worst of the hardships endured by the islanders is the isolation and fear that they live in. The friends gather together one night, secretly, to share a meal, and homemade gin, and conversation.

Walking home after the restorative evening, they are stopped and questioned by soldiers. To avoid arrest, Elizabeth says that the group had just left a book club meeting. When asked the name of the club, she and Eben make up the name…The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society. An inebriated Eben contributed the potato peel pie part.

Suspicious, the Germans send a representative to attend the book club, which must now become a reality. The group meets, and it is allowed to continue. The friends discover that they enjoy reading books and gathering together to share thoughts and ideas. Five years later, the society still exists.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Juliet is so enchanted by Dawsey’s story that she travels to Guernsey to attend a Friday night meeting of the literary society, with the intention of writing about the formation of the club for her Times piece. Mark proposes to Juliet before she goes. She accepts his proposal and promises to return after a long weekend. However, once she arrives in Guernsey, Juliet discovers there is more to the story.

The people of Guernsey have been deeply impacted by the war as well. They have experienced loss. Juliet meets Eben’s charming young grandson, Eli (Connor), who has joined the society, and Dawsey and Elizabeth’s four year old daughter, Kit (Keen). Elizabeth, however, has vanished, and none of the society members want to talk about what happened. They also don’t want Juliet to write and share their story.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

As Juliet’s stay lengthens into a week, she works to uncover the deeper stories and mysteries within the society story. She forms connections with each of the club members. They begin to feel like family members to Juliet, rather than strangers, and Guernsey begins to feel like home.

This was a beautiful and charming film that relies heavily on story development and heart felt performances by an excellent cast. I loved the literary connections, and the lively discussions among the society members. And the island life depicted in the film was captivating. I would like to visit the island of Guernsey as a result of watching this movie.

Most of all, I appreciated the connections formed among Juliet and her new found friends. She later writes that she felt she had always known them, and always would. I too like when I meet someone and it feels like we are already old friends. On an individual level, each of the characters grow as well, healing old hurts, releasing the past, and uncovering strengths, and that growth deepens the bonds that form between them.

If you have Netflix, and a free evening, check out this warm and delightful movie. I think you will be glad that you did.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Series Review: Big Dreams, Small Spaces

My mom suggested this wonderful series to me, that she discovered recently on Netflix. We ran an errand together this morning, and knowing my love of gardening, she shared about this British show in which horticulturalist Monty Don helps people with small gardens realize their big dreams for the spaces.

I was so intrigued that when we returned to her house, we watched an episode together. I loved it! During tea time this afternoon, I started at the beginning of Big Dreams, Small Spaces and watched the first two episodes.

Big Dreams Small Spaces

Big Dreams, Small spaces features Monty Don, a well know British writer, tv personality and gardener. He meets with two gardeners per episode, offering his wisdom and expertise as he helps them plan out the garden of their dreams, and then bring into reality. There are six episodes in this series, each with a run time of 59 minutes. In the US, this series is available on Netflix.

Not being familiar with him, I had to look Monty Don up. I am impressed. The 62 year old horticulturalist has a long history of gardening, writing and hosting shows on BBC about a variety of gardening topics.

I very much enjoyed his easy going charm as he visited amateur gardeners across England, helping people who faced challenges in bringing their small plots of ground to life.

In the first episode Monty helped a couple transform a steeply sloped back garden into a terraced paradise, just in time for their upcoming wedding. They were able to use freshly cut flowers from their own garden in the bride’s bouquet.

He also assisted a woman who was attempting to create a sanctuary for her bee hives, on an allotment plot that had been abandoned for years. The small piece of land was sadly neglected, overgrown and full of trash.

Big Dreams Small Spaces

In the second episode, Monty divided his time between a woman creating a community garden in her front yard, providing free vegetables for her neighbors, and a young couple who desired to fashion a sensory garden for their young son, who was born with Down’s Syndrome. Like some of the other Dreamers, the space that they had to work with was in horrific condition.

What I love about this feel-good series is how Monty meets each prospective gardener precisely where they are…in the dreaming phase of their projects. He’s thoughtful as he listens to their ideas, hopes and dreams, and then views the selected space. He is encouraging as he looks at their plans, if they have one sketched out. Most did. And he is realistic in setting expectations, offering suggestions and advice that comes from years of gardening.

And then Monty leaves them to begin their projects, checking in with them once a month or so, over the summer season. He occasionally shrugs off his jacket, rolls up his sleeves and handles a shovel or prunes back a tree. However his primary role is to encourage, instruct and to keep the gardeners moving forward.

Big Dreams Small Spaces

I was amazed by the hard work and determination of the gardeners. They knew Monty would be back by, and they wanted him to be pleased with their progress. He always was. And I was amazed by the transformations as overgrown, junk filled, or drab spaces became gorgeous gardens with water features, masses of flowers and interesting focal points.

I picked up some great tips for my own garden, such as using cardboard beneath a raised bed, to block weeds, and how to create better drainage for herbs. This is a show that I will watch with a notebook nearby so I can take notes.

And, I adore listening to Monty and the others chat in their British accents. I smiled over the differences in pronunciation, and learned new things such as entirely different words for the same flower or vegetable. The vegetable that we call a zucchini is called a courgette in England.

Big Dreams Small Spaces

I am inspired by Big Dreams, Small Spaces. Watching gardeners bring their dreams into reality makes me want to get out into my garden and take it to the next level. And I appreciate Monty’s observations and advice. He never took a dream away from a hopeful gardener, no matter how implausible those big ideas were. Instead, he guided them through the entire process, from adapting plans to selecting plants to tucking them into the ground in the right places. Watching those gardens become manifest allows me to dream big as well, and know that with hard work, anything is possible.

Big Dreams, Small Spaces is ideal for gardeners, creative souls, and anyone who enjoys different cultures. It’s perfect as well for those who want to feel good at the end of a program.

Monty Don is a true British treasure and I will be searching Netflix and YouTube, to see what else he offers via television, how-to videos and books. I saw a pic that has me hopeful!

Series Review: The Crown

I recently began watching the lavish Netflix original series, The Crown. I’m three quarters of the way through the first season, which premiered in November of 2016. Season two just released last month. The series has a projected run of six years. I’m glad. Being a history enthusiast, and one with a long time interest in the royalty of Europe, I am enchanted by this well done show.

The Crown stars Claire Foy, Matt Smith, John Lithgow, Victoria Hamilton, Vanessa Kirby, Jared Harris and Jeremy Northam. The historical drama, directed by Philip Martin and several others, is based upon the award winning play “The Audience” by showrunner Peter Morgan. It carries a Mature Audience rating, and has a weekly run time of 58 minutes.

The Crown chronicles the ascent to the throne of Elizabeth II (Foy) at age 25, after the death of her father, King George VI (Harris), and her life from the 1940s to current times. The king, who was more ill than his family realized, died unexpectedly, deeply affecting his wife, Queen Elizabeth I (Hamilton) and his daughters, the future queen and his younger child, Margaret (Kirby).

Elizabeth II has a young family with her husband, Philip Mountbatten (Smith), the Duke of Edinburgh, a naval officer whose career is on the rise. She expected to have years living a somewhat normal life with her growing family before she would be required to wear the crown. The first season covers the beginning of Queen Elizabeth’s reign and the intrigues and challenges of the monarchy, along with the political rivalries between an aging Winston Churchill (Lithgow) and prime minister hopeful Anthony Eden (Northam).

The focus of the series is on the relationship between the young Queen and her husband, the Prince. They must learn to live in this new world they find themselves in. Philip gives up his naval career, his last name and the home he shares with Elizabeth and their children, to become the Queen’s consort.

Elizabeth is in the important role of queen, which must take precedent over that of wife. She must adapt, and quickly, as the needs of the monarchy never cease.

I am not only enjoying this beautiful production, my perspectives about England’s royal family is shifting. The casting is excellent. Matt Smith embodies Prince Philip. I read he was given one piece of advice from Prince William, about playing the role. William described his father as “legendary “.

I feel strong sympathy toward Prince Philip. He knew he was marrying the future Queen of England. However, the ascension to the throne happened earlier than they dreamed possible. Philip finds himself in a role he doesn’t quite yet know how to play. He will never be king, and yet he is a pillar of quiet strength beside his wife.

Matt Smith and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Claire Foy and Queen Elizabeth II.

The newly crowned Queen draws my earnest respect. She was so young when she took the throne. And yet she shouldered the heavy and demanding responsibilities well, learning quickly, making decisions that oft times were contrary to tradition or against the wishes of the Queen Mother or her husband. I find her life fascinating, and I am already seeing the royal family as so much more than figureheads with a celebrity type status.

There were, and still are, many political decisions to sort through and masses of people to care for and a country to represent, all while living in one of the most elaborate glass houses in the world. This family is under constant scrutiny, and I can’t imagine living day to day under that kind of pressure.

John Lithgow as Winston Churchill.

I look forward to furthering my education about this powerful woman, and her stalwart Prince, who have, in reality, been married for 70 years. That is a lifetime together. I appreciate The Crown, and the peek I am getting into that extraordinary life.

Series Review: Stranger Things

I had to roll to Plan C today. I am a bit sad that I missed a one time showing of the film, Loving Vincent, about painter Vincent Van Gogh. I figured movie goers would not appreciate my coughing outbursts. I hope I can catch the movie later on Amazon Prime or Netflix. Plan B was a creative project, that I simply lacked the energy for today.

The truth is, I spent most of the day in bed, nursing myself through a nasty cold. That is what my body needed most today, rest. I’ve sipped on an antioxidant rich smoothie, thyme tea, ginger water, and hot water with a drop each of Young Living Thieves essential oil and lemon essential oil.

Plan C matched my day of self care. I tuned in to the extremely popular Netflix series Stranger Things. I’m a little late to the Stranger Things party. Season 2 released last month. The great thing about Netflix is, one can easily catch up on a show by watching the earlier seasons. I am now two thirds of the way through season 1.

Stranger Things stars Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalie Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Matthew Modine, and Noah Schnapp. This fantasy drama is written and director by brothers Matt and Ross Duffer. The episodes have a run time of 55 minutes each. This Netflix original series premiered in 2016.

Nothing much ever happens in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, until the night of November 16, 1983. That evening young Will Byers (Schnapp) disappears, after a day of playing Dungeons & Dragons with his best friends, Mike Wheeler (Wolfhard), Lucas Sinclair (McLaughlin) and Dustin Henderson (Matarazzo).

Sheriff Jim Hopper (Harbour) feels he must be under a curse, when a friend dies seemingly by a self inflicted gunshot shortly after the disappearance. There hasn’t been a missing person reported in Hawkins since 1921 and 1961 was the last suicide. As the sheriff begins the search for Will, the whole town starts to experience strange occurrences.

More people disappear. Will’s mother Joyce (Ryder) is sure her son is alive and in horrible danger. She is convinced Will is communicating with her via electrical lights and bizarre phone calls. At first everyone thinks Joyce is crazy. But gradually her elder son Jonathan (Heaton) begins to believe her. He recruits Mike’s older sister Nancy (Dyer) to track down a menacing faceless monster that seems to be behind the disappearances.

The trail Sheriff Hopper is following leads to a well guarded facility, Hawkins National Laboratory, run by Dr. Brenner (Modine). With a history of experimental and questionable practices, Hopper feels there is a connection between the lab and the chaos engulfing the town.

And only the three remaining friends know about the existence of the most mysterious person in Hawkins. She appeared the night Will disappeared. With closely cropped hair and clad in a hospital gown, the girl goes by the name Eleven. She has that number tattooed on her inner arm. Mike sneaks her into his family’s home, where she takes up residence in the basement. Eleven rarely speaks, but she has amazing psychokinetic abilities. The boys consider her gifts to be superpowers. She promises to help them find Will.

There is much going on in Hawkins, in the seen world and the unseen. Eleven seems to hold the key to the door between worlds. What will happen if that door is opened?

I have heard nothing but enthusiastic words about Stranger Things. I’ve deliberately not read detailed reviews about this series, so I could watch without a preconceived idea about the story.

I love this show!

Stranger Things is a campy cross between X Files and the 1986 movie Stand By Me. That’s deliberate. The creators wrote Stranger Things as a tribute to sci-fi, fantasy and horror movies and series of the 1980s. Several of the themes in this series were inspired by Steven Spielberg, Stephen King and John Carpenter. I enjoy the genres of fantasy and sci-fi, and a good horror flick if the focus is on the story and not blood and gore, so I found much to appreciate about Stranger Things.

The cast is phenomenal, especially the youth. Eleven’s portrayal by Millie is perfectly delivered. And my heart was pierced by Winona’s Joyce, the mom who refused to give up on her missing son. When evidence seemed to prove he was dead, Joyce stubbornly trusted her instincts that told her Will was alive. Her actions and beliefs appeared crazy to everyone else, and yet she was actually following the guidance she was being given.

I have three more episodes to watch in season 1, and then I am ready for season 2, which released in its entirety. This is easily a binge worthy show. I couldn’t stop after each episode, thinking Just one more…

I don’t know how this first season plays out. I haven’t looked ahead to season 2 at all. I’m watching the story of Stranger Things unfold one episode at a time. I am already hoping there will be a season 3.