In post-World War II Britain, the occupants of Guernsey, an island off the English Channel, are recovering from their time under German Occupation while London’s elite, including author Juliet Ashton (Lily James – Cinderella, Downton Abbey), shrug the war off through lavish social gatherings. Juliet, though fortunate in her career and love life, having a loving beau named Mark Reynolds (Glen Powell – Everybody Wants Some!!, Hidden Figures), can’t help but feel something is missing – that is, until she starts a letter correspondence with a resident of Guernsey named Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman – GOT).
Dawsey tells Juliet about how he and his friends formed a book club called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society as a means of escapism during Nazi occupation, and Juliet sets her sights on visiting the island to find out more about the eclectic group. She discovers that a mystery haunts them.
Based on the novel of the same name by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows published in 2008, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society provides a charming story with the loveliest of characters. Its rich ensemble includes a bunch of Downton Abbey stars such as Lily James, Jessica Brown Findlay and Penelope Wilton, and other talents like Glen Powell, Michiel Huisman, The IT Crowd’s Katherine Parkinson, Matthew Goode (Stoker, The Crown), and Tom Cortenay.
Expertly directed and paced by the reliable Mike Newell, who is best-known for Four Weddings and a Funeral (which shares quite a few commonalities with his latest, actually), but has also directed the likes of Donnie Brasco, Into the West, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire over the years, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society provides safe and pleasant if somewhat uninspired viewing.
What begins as a love letter to literature – at one point there’s a lively discussion about which of the Bronte sisters’ contributions to literature was the most important, while other authors that get a shout-out include Austen and our own W.B. Yeats – morphs into a predictable, conventional romantic drama. The second half also takes a sharp turn in that it abandons the humour that dominated what came before to become a reflection on the sadness, cruelty and injustice of war. While The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has a classic, jovial feel to it which should appeal to more mature audiences, it can be a bit nicey-nicey and lacks any lasting spark.