Despite having the most fantastic title for a film this year, I knew very little about the film. All I knew was that it was set in Guernsey during Nazi occupation and that enough sold the idea to see The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I’m a sucker for history and this was something new to me. I imagined something that would be over the top British and over the top quaint, and while in some sense this is correct, I was cocooned in what was a surprisingly tragic story that had been covered by the fluffiness of a seemingly charming surrounding.
Behind the potato peel pies and the books is a celebration of Guernsey, as though to shout out yes, this tiny little channel island has history too. The way the film presents the island though immaculate cinematography is a sight to behold, feeling both curious and familiar as we explore the wartime history through the members of the society whilst also uncovering mysteries about the members. To recreate the post-world war two look, it seems the costume designers took an admittedly clichéd route, but all is forgiven when you see the residents of Guernsey who are still dressed like the war is going on, a point which the film stresses plentifully.
The flashbacks into Nazi occupation were insightful as well as the uncovering of who Elizabeth is but it’s when these flashbacks talk about the occupation that you really get to feel the scale of how the German forces practically imprisoned the island and its residents. The society members description of what they each lost in said occupation helps the audience form a sympathetic view towards them.
We uncover these mystery’s with recently successful writer Juliet Ashton played by Lily James who’s bubbly performance is just right for the quaintness of post-war Britain. Whilst also being charming, her character is facing what she at first interprets as a big boost in her life being engaged to an American Mark Reynolds (Glen Powell) but soon start to fall for the island and the society. A surprisingly unexpected performance from Penelope Wilton as society member Amelia. She is undeniably a seasoned actress but her performance in this film is possibly the best dramatic performance I’ve seen from her because of the delivery of her character’s torment and fearfulness.
You can easily identify when the film changes its tone from cheerful to saddening and that transition is a real kick when it happens, as you get the instant feeling of something is not right, the blow is softened by the continuing pace which some may find a bit too slow, but for the discovery of secrets, I believe it doesn’t affect too much of your enjoyment and curiosity. The film keeps its mystery alive which is what keeps the film afloat from becoming another sluggish film that you’d keep checking the time on because you want it to be over.
With that being said, the subplots of the film could have been handled a bit more carefully. The script can’t make up its mind on which subplot takes center stage. The mystery of Elizabeth is focal, but we also get a hint of a romantic triangle between Juliet, Mark and the literary society member and the prince charming of pig farmers Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman) that tries to steal the spotlight. This also includes a storyline into Elizabeth’s adorable daughter Kit that manages to sneak its way into our attention. It becomes a chore to keep up with these constantly switching storylines and it’s a shame because they would feel quite engaging if they weren’t brought up at times where we had just gotten into one of these subplots.
On the romance side of the story, this was shown to be a painfully obvious romance, you might have well placed a big tick on the right man for Juliet to pick. There was very little internal conflict in Juliet that came across on the big screen, we shouldn’t already know which man is right for her we want to see the good and bad in both Mark and Dawsey. The main reason to include a romantic conflict is so the audience can feel compelled right until the end where we can feel good for the characters, and that feeling wasn’t strong enough in the film.
Divisive is the word I would use for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This is one of those films that split audiences down the middle. If there is one element that this film has plenty of, it’s respect. This is a story of people seeking solace whether that be in books or each other from a lingering haunt, but like most British made films, there is a layer of jolly blitz spirit over it making it serious but sweet. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m curious to know what potato peel pie tastes like.
Final Result: 7/10 – Good
Have you seen The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
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