In Nazi-occupied Guernsey, a group of friends and neighbours are caught walking home after curfew. To avoid punishment, they blag their way past the Nazi guards by saying they had a club meeting – and out of that encounter comes the bizarrely named The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
The story of this rather unconventional society lands on the desk of London writer Juliet Ashton (Lily James) who, having become famous during the war for light-hearted wartime fiction, is desperately searching for her next project. She wants something a little more serious this time and under her own name perhaps, not a pseudonym.
So when Juliet learns of the society, she begins to correspond with the people there and eventually decides to take the trip down to the island to meet them face to face. Juliet is charmed by both them and the island itself and a trip that was only supposed to last a couple of days soon turns into weeks. Inquisitive by nature, Juliet pushes her way into the group, asking questions and wanting to know more, unaware of the depths of their pain or what they all endured under the occupation. And the more she pries, the more she causes upset, especially to matriarch Amelia (Penelope Wilton). Because there is more to the group’s story and they seem reluctant to share, especially when Juliet asks about Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay), a woman who played such an integral part in the formation of the society but who is now ‘away’ somewhere unknown to Juliet.
Mike Newell’s adaptation of beloved novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society explores both the small and intimate and the big and far-reaching. We see the minutiae of everyday life and we see the huge impact of war and occupation. However, the very best thing about this film is that it is, at its heart, all about people and their need to connect. The society is a very random bunch of characters but from the moment you meet them you’re immediately invested in their stories and delighted and intrigued by their foibles and quirks. You want to know not only about what brought them together but what kept them that way.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is utterly charming, as easy to fall in love with as the island is to Juliet. The film is full of heart, humour and emotion. It takes you from gut-wrenching anguish to happy tears to laughing . . . and back again. And with a supporting cast that includes the delectable Matthew Goode along with the marvellous Katherine Parkinson, Michiel Huisman and Tom Courtenay, it’s easy to see why it all comes together so well.
Personally, I could have done without the overly sentimental Hollywood ending that doesn’t quite seem in keeping with the understated but moving tone of the rest of the film, but it’s not enough to dampen the warmth of the overall picture.