Review of “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”


“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”, released in April 2018 in the United Kingdom, was distributed internationally by Netflix as an original movie. The film is based on the bestselling 2010 book of the same name by writers Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrow. Directed by Mike Newell and starring Lily James and Michiel Huisman, the story begins with four friends on the channel island of Guernsey under German occupation. In order to hide contraband and avoid German arrest, the four invent a reading group. Fast forward to 1946, after war’s end, when one of the members, Dawsey Adams, contacts a mainlander to send a new book. That mainlander, Juliet Aston, is a writer under the pen name Izzy Bickerstaff, and is in the midst of promoting a new book. Her publisher wants a series of articles on the benefits of literature. She decides to travel to Guernsey to write about the society. They, however, are harbouring a whole slew of secrets, making Aston’s coverage of the society and writing difficult, though she is very fond of them. Interwoven in the narrative of the author visit to Guernsey are a series of love stories and heart breaks, one related to the Nazi occupation.

The film follows conventions of World War II period dramas, with sweeping landscapes hardened by German occupation and love amongst the ruins. This film does, however, avoid the pitfalls of other recent releases like “Suite Francais”, another film which deals with love between occupier and occupied. While “Suite Francais” drips with saccharine seriousness, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” still can generate some laughs despite the subject matter.

The movie serves up both a detective story and love story, with a feminist twist. The chemistry between Lily James and Michiel Huisman isn’t convincing, but Lily James’ general energy on the screen is solid and engaging. You want her to figure out the drama behind the society, and rejoice when she pulls up her typewriter and gets down to work. Michiel Huisman, while handsome, is a Dutch actor, and never quite gets a grip on the English accent. Some positives are the costumes, which are gorgeous (but not particularly convincing for a recently war-ravaged people living off ration books). The Channel island also comes off as charming, a selling point for the otherwise slightly heavy-handed and hokey film.