Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

Madeleine Copley | 27/04/2018

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society must be one of the most aptly named films to hit cinemas in some time; not because of its acutely accurate description of the content of the film, but because of its supreme suitability to a film which is a little too chintzy and a little too long.

Based on a best-selling novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society tells the story of a rag-tag group formed during Nazi occupation of the island of Guernsey during the Second World War through the eyes of a newly successful young London author, Juliet Ashton (Lily James).  When Juliet receives a letter from Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman), thanking her for donating a copy of Charles Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare her curiosity is immediately piqued and she begins a friendly correspondence with Dawsey. In the midst of her devoted letter-writing to Dawsey, Juliet becomes engaged to Mark Reynolds (Glen Powell), a charming American to whom Juliet is not well-suited – as the audience is made rather too keenly aware at several points throughout the film


Disillusioned with the constraints of her book tour schedule and the inanity of her wildly popular creation, Izzy Biggerstaff, Juliet decides that the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society would be the perfect subject matter for an article on reading commissioned by the London Times. Much to the chagrin of her eternally weary publisher, Sidney Stark (Matthew Goode who gives perhaps the most enjoyable performance in a film dominated by the underwriting and overacting of its characters), Juliet wastes no time in inviting herself to Guernsey to attend a meeting of the Society.


Whilst on Guernsey, Juliet falls in love with the island and its inhabitants, particularly the eccentric members of the society, the lightly inebriated Isola Pribby (Katherine Parkinson), garrulous Eben Ramsey (Tom Courtenay) and the prickly Amelia Maugery (Penelope Wilton). At the same time, she finds herself fascinated by the islanders’ reluctance to discuss their founding member, Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay). Elizabeth’s story, and that of the occupation, lends a darker, more serious flavour to cut through the scripts saccharinity, which could have been explored to much greater effect.


It will come as no shock to even the most casual romantic comedy viewer that after a few misunderstandings culminating in a (slightly too delayed) quayside reunion, the forerunner to the airport reunion cliché, our heroine and Dawsey find themselves living in married bliss on Guernsey – notwithstanding the total lack of chemistry between the two leads.


Predictability aside, Guernsey is an easily enjoyable and unchallenging romantic comedy, the island backdrop (actually Devon, Guernsey having changed too much since the 1940s to permit shooting on location) is pretty and charming and the all too brief exploration of the power of literature in a film about the importance of reading to bring people together, are highlights.