The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

 

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Guernsey is the setting for two interrelated dramatic tales.

   
 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Katherine Parkinson, Tom Courtenay, Kit Connor, Penelope Wilton, Michiel Huisman and Lily James

 

Hidden behind its bizarre title is a film of huge commercial appeal that could hardly be more adroit in telling two interconnected stories simultaneously. One of these set in 1946 concerns an authoress, Juliet Ashton (Lily James giving her best performance to date), who finds her life changed when visiting Guernsey and discovering material there that might furnish her with a new book. The other tale consists of what Juliet uncovers bit by bit and which eventually inspires her: the dramatic events during the German occupation of Guernsey that had a deep and lasting effect on the people that Juliet meets on the island including the farmer Dawsey Adams (appealing Dutch actor Michiel Huisman), the postmaster (Tom Courtenay) and a widow, Amelia Maugery (Penelope Wilton).

 

As this description suggests, comedy is not much in evidence here. However, it does play a part in the wartime prologue which, offering a slightly uneasy blend of humour and tension, shows how the society of the title was invented to bluff the Germans into believing that a clandestine gathering was instead a meeting of a literary society. The other minor weakness is that in a film lasting slightly over two hours the resolution of Juliet's own story is somewhat over-extended. But no matter: as popular story-telling this works a treat and, while moving back and forth in time, never for a moment becomes confusing.

 

In Another Mother's Son (2017) the narrative featured a comparable tale of the German occupation of Jersey without any later framework but a committed performance in the lead role by Jenny Seagrove was undermined by a screenplay that fell into contrived melodrama. I have seen it suggested that the 1946 setting used here is unnecessary. Indeed, it is fair to say that the post-war material with its love story themes adding to the film's popular appeal might have taken away from the power of what is being said about Guernsey's wartime history. That it doesn't work out like that is helped by the screenplay being much better than that for Another Mother's Son when it comes to the historical aspect. But, crucially, there's the fact that the force of events that occurred in wartime yet continue to remain potent thereafter is made manifest through the superbly judged contribution from Penelope Wilton, a wonderful actress inadequately used in films. She supplies a real depth of feeling devoid of any sense of melodrama and thus becomes the heart of the film. Provided that those unfamiliar with the novel on which this film is based are not put off by the cumbersome and eccentric title, this well-crafted example of British popular cinema should be a huge hit.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Lily James, Michiel Huisman, Glen Powell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Katherine Parkinson, Matthew Goode, Tom Courtenay, Penelope Wilton, Kit Connor, Nicolo Paretti, Bronagh Gallagher, Florence Keen, Andy Gathergood, Joanna Hole.

 

Dir Mike Newell, Pro Paula Mazur, Mitchell Kaplan, Graham Broadbent and Pete Czemin, Screenplay Don Roos, Kevin Hood and Thomas Bezucha, from the novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows, Ph Zac Nicholson, Pro Des James Merrifield, Ed Paul Tothill, Music Alexandra Harwood, Costumes Charlotte Walter.

  
Blueprint Pictures/Mazur/Kaplan Company/Canal+/Ciné+-StudioCanal.
124 mins. UK/France/USA. 2018. Rel: 20 April 2018. Cert. 12A.