Cinema review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

What a charming period piece this is. And how heartening to be reminded that there once was a time, before everybody’s eyes were glued to a little screen in their hand, when hardcopy books were appreciated as treasure. Juliet Ashton (Lily James) is a young writer whose work was much appreciated by a reading group in Guernsey during WWII. With the island occupied by German forces, it was the literary society that sustained its members’ morale. In 1946, intrigued by communications that she received from one of those readers, Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman), Juliet sailed to Guernsey with the intention of writing a piece for The Times of London. A tragic story concerning the mother of the little girl Kit led Juliet to dig deeper into the local history. There are not really any striking parallels, but the latest offering from venerable English filmmaker Mike Newell had me thinking all the time of AS Byatt’s Possession – maybe it was the idea that you could love somebody from another time, whom you have not met. Newell, who has made some of my fave movies, including Mona Lisa Smile (2003), Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and Into the West (1992), has an agreeable penchant for the soppy and in this he gives it full reign. The love triangle of Juliet, her American fiancé Mark (Glen Powell) and the pig farmer Dawsey, who may as well have walked out of the pages of Thomas Hardy or DH Lawrence, is a no brainer, but the intrigue concerning the disappearance of Elizabeth is satisfactorily sorted out as the sad truth emerges. James, who does fretting and niceness as though her life depended on it, gives to Juliet an ingenuousness that thankfully falls shy of mushiness, but whether Newell needed to include so many close-ups of her is debatable. Penelope Wilton and Tom Courtenay help steer the movie clear of melodrama and Matthew Goode is typically reliable playing a straight bat as Juliet’s agent and confidante.

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