Review / ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ (M) *** and a half

IN 2008, Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows published a novel that, perhaps because of its intriguing title, sold very well. Wikipedia offers a neat plot summary.

I read the book, enjoyed it at the time but let it slip from memory (I read a lot). It’s fair to say that while prolific director Mike Newell and writers Kevin Hood, Thomas Bezucha and Don Roos have laboured affectionately to bring “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” to the screen, the result does vary a tad from the book.

To reject the film on account of that is a little unfair. It’s gentle, engaging, with a fine cast and great respect for the story. But what’s a precise doddle on a printing press doesn’t necessarily reach the screen with such facility.

To categorise book or film is not a simple task. Telling the story, both reflect wonderful themes – the magic of great writing, self-discovery, courage in adversity’s face, loyalty to self and community and, inevitably, love.

Lily James plays Juliet, a successful English novelist. In her early thirties she wants to retire her war-time pseudonym. In 1946, she gets a letter from Dawsey (Michiel Huisman) who, during the war, had been a member of the Society, established as a cover for residents breaking curfew during the German occupation of Guernsey. She travels to the island where she slowly finds acceptance from other members, taking notes without writing a word of the piece about the essays of Charles Lamb that her publisher has agreed to take from her.

A tour of the second largest of the Channel Islands requires an airline or ferry ticket, not a cinema ticket. Shot in Devon and Cornwall, the film looks delightful.

The principal cast includes Penelope Wilton, as Amelia, who at first resents Juliet’s presence, Tom Courtenay as Eben who runs the local post office, Katherine Parkinson as Isola who befriends Juliet, Bronagh Gallagher as the landlady who knows what went on between Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findlay) and the German army medico who fathered five-year-old Kit for whom the islanders care, knowing that both her parents died in the war.

Some characters in the film aren’t in the book and vice versa, which doesn’t diminish the story in either medium. The film runs for 124 agreeable minutes.

At all cinemas

 

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