Film review: The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society

Don't let its unwieldy title put you off – Mike Newell's The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society is a sweeping tale of wartime self-sacrifice that features impeccable period design and sterling performances, writes Damon Smith

Lily James and Michiel Huisman in The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society
Damon Smith

IN 1994 love was all around director Mike Newell as he shepherded potty-mouthed romantic comedy Four Weddings And A Funeral to a trio of coveted Baftas – including Best Film – and two Oscar nominations.

That loving feeling persists in The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society, a cumbersome title for a sweeping tale of self-sacrifice, based on the posthumously published novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

Set predominantly on the island during and after the Second World War when Germans invaded and heavily fortified the coast, Newell's chocolate box romance was filmed in picturesque Devon and is laden with emotional soft centres to guarantee swoons of satisfaction.

Kate Winslet was originally attached as the film's plucky heroine as far back as 2012 but the luminous Lily James now casts a warm glow as one point of a tantalising love triangle that provides the framework for a grim history lesson peppered with heartache.

The script cuts back and forth between 1941 and 1946 in order to conceal twists in the plot, evoking the era with impeccable period design that contrasts simple, earthy tones of life off the British mainland with the exuberance and impeccable style of high society London rebuilding itself following the Blitz.

Author Juliet Ashton (James) and publisher Sidney Stark (Matthew Goode) embark on a book tour amid the rubble of a capital decimated by enemy bombs.

"It feels like we've emerged from a long, black tunnel into a carnival," observes Juliet, who is buoyed by her burgeoning romance with a dashing American officer (Glen Powell).

Out of the blue, she receives a letter from a Guernsey farmer called Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman), who shares fascinating details about a literary society established under German occupation.

Intrigued by this inspirational story of defiance in a time of conflict, Juliet travels to the island to meet Dawsey and club members Eben Ramsey (Sir Tom Courtenay), Isola Pribby (Katherine Parkinson) and Amelia Maugery (Dame Penelope Wilton).

Courageous founder Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay) is curiously absent.

"You won't be meeting her. She's off island at present," cryptically explains Amelia.

Juliet seeks temporary lodgings and the pious landlady (Bronagh Gallagher) intimates a dark secret involving the society.

"There's more to that story than they like to let on," she confides and Juliet turns detective to uncover the truth.

The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society confidently navigates choppy emotional waters separating the two time frames.

James and Huisman are an exceedingly attractive pairing and their on-screen chemistry simmers while the former wrestles with the disparity between her own situation and the indomitable spirit of the islanders.

"My good fortune feels so conspicuous here," laments Juliet.

Sterling support led by the majestic Wilton plucks heartstrings without resorting to shameless emotional manipulation.

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY (12A, 124 mins) Romance/Drama/War. Lily James, Michiel Huisman, Matthew Goode, Jessica Brown Findlay, Sir Tom Courtenay, Katherine Parkinson, Dame Penelope Wilton, Glen Powell, Bronagh Gallagher. Director: Mike Newell

Released: April 20 (UK & Ireland)

RATING: 7/10

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access