THE GUERNSEY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY bakes its charming and moving tale into 124 minutes, time spent among people for whom you’d gladly allow more. From 2018, directed by Mike Newell, with a screenplay by Don Roos, Kevin Hood and Thomas Bezucha, finessed from a bestselling historical fiction novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, published a decade earlier.
“Dear Mr. Adams, I am so pleased your letter found me and that my book found you. Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instincts in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.”
England, 1946. ‘Juliet Ashton’ (Lily James, sigh), a writer who achieved success during the war pushing puffstuff under a pseudonym, takes a trip to the English Channel island of Guernsey, in response to a letter from a resident, a query that piques her interest in the book society he’s a member of. An extended stay reveals painful matters that members of the cozy little club would rather keep private, involving the island’s occupation by German troops that began in 1941, and, more particularly, how some residents reacted to it. The richness of the uncovered material is something Juliet can’t easily deny, but that’s balanced against her affection for the islanders and their trust in her.
Don’t let that twee-winsome title put you off. Sweet without being ‘precious’, sparkling with wit, the wistful and evocative story and its kind and caring people are fully engaging. It delights as a handsome period piece, as a detective puzzle with just the right degree of intrigue and as a civilized romance that crosses your fingers for its hopeful resolution. James is evanescent. The endearing members of the Society: Michael Huisman (‘Dawsey Adams’), Penelope Wilton (‘Amelia Maugery’), Katherine Parkinson (‘Isola Pribbey’), Tom Courtenay (‘Eben Ramsey’), and Kit Connor (‘Eli’). Wilton is particularly strong—I was certain I was seeing Lynn Redgrave until I checked the credits—and Parkinson’s delicately expressed lament over no luck in finding a love partner is quite touching.
With Matthew Goode (Juliet’s patient editor), Glen Powell (her American fiancée), Bronagh Gallegher (bitter town bitch), Jessica Brown Findlay (brave, ill-fated ‘Elizabeth’). In a day when seeing someone with a BOOK is akin to finding a unicorn in your bathtub, a movie that pauses over the craft beauty and intrinsic shared value of stories put to page is a real treat. Hearkening back to the Ealing character spinners from the 50s, this would make a warm companion piece in a modern set that could include charmers like Their Finest and Tamara Drewe. Grosses came to $23,144,000.