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 & 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.