D: Mike Newell / 124m
Cast: Lily James, Michiel Huisman, Glen Powell, Matthew Goode, Jessica Brown Findlay, Katherine Parkinson, Penelope Wilton, Tom Courtenay, Kit Connor, Bronagh Gallagher, Bernice Stegers, Clive Merrison
In 1946, author Juliet Ashton (James) is in the middle of promoting her latest book, when two things happen simultaneously: The Times Literary Supplement asks her to write a series of articles on the benefits of literature, and she receives a letter from a Guernsey man named Dawcey Adams (Huisman) who is part of a literary society on the island. Intrigued by the idea of a literary society formed during the war, Juliet opts to visit Guernsey and meet Adams and the other members. Just before she sails from London, her American beau, Mark (Powell), proposes to her and she accepts. On Guernsey, Juliet meets all but one of the members of the literary society, and is told that the absent member, Elizabeth McKenna (Findlay), is away on the continent. When she mentions writing an article about the group, one of them, Amelia Maugery (Wilton), refuses to agree to the idea. Sensing there are things that she’s not being told, Juliet remains on the island and soon finds herself beginning to piece together the mystery surrounding Elizabeth’s absence…
Based on the novel of the same name (and how could it be anything different?) by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a lightweight slice of rose-tinted nostalgia filtered through the lens of modern movie-making techniques, and with even less substance than the culinary creation in its title (which sounds like a stodge-fest of epic proportions). It’s by-the-numbers movie making with no surprises, an ending you can guess all the way from the rings of Saturn, and as many softly poignant moments designed to raise a tear that can be squeezed into a two-hour run time. It’s cosy, and reassuring in its approach, and it requires almost no effort at all in watching it. In short, it’s a perfectly enjoyable confection that’s written and directed and performed with a keen understanding that it has to be made in a certain way, and that way is to provide audiences with the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. So lightweight is it that the mystery of Elizabeth’s absence isn’t even the most dramatic aspect of the movie – and that’s bcause there’s nothing dramatic about any of it, no matter how hard the script tries, and no matter how hard its director tries also.
Thankfully, all this doesn’t mean that the movie is a bad one, just predictable and bland and almost a perfect tick box exercise in terms of it being a romantic drama with a wartime background. It does feature a clutch of good performances, with James suitably bullish and radiant at the same time, Courtenay delivering yet another example of his recent run of lovable old codgers, Goode effortlessly suave and supportive as Juliet’s publisher, and Powell as the boyfriend who you know is going to be dumped near the end to ensure that true love prevails as it should. Only Huisman looks out of place (and there’s a distinct awkwardness and lack of chemistry between him and James), while Parkinson and Wilton deliver pitch-perfect portrayals of a gin-making (and swigging) spinster, and a still grieving mother respectively. It’s handsomely mounted (though sadly, none of it was actually shot on Guernsey), with impressive production design and period detail, and equally impressive effects shots detailing some of the destruction suffered by London during the Blitz. But still, there’s that traditional romantic storyline that anchors the movie and keeps it from straying too far into original territory. And if there’s one thing that the movie knows above all else, it’s that familiarity – when done correctly – is all you need.
Rating: 7/10 – a movie that can be criticised easily for what it doesn’t do, The Guersey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a modest movie with modest ambitions, and likely to have a modest effect on its audience; a good-natured bit of celluloid fluff, it’s perfect viewing for a wet and windy Sunday afternoon, or when all you need is something that doesn’t require too much effort in order to enjoy it fully.