It is inevitable that a good novel will make its way to being made into a movie. Also inevitable is those in love with the book will often be disappointed by the film.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) didn’t disappoint me though I was later made aware of plot lines that had been deleted from the film. This annoyed but it was still a pretty faithful rendering of what I recalled of the novel.
In World War II, Britain was under threat as the Germans marched westward. It was decided to leave the people of the Channel Islands defenceless.
“Hitler considered the Channel Islands – Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm – a valuable landing stage for the invasion of mainland France, as they sat just 20 miles off the French coast. Winston Churchill, however, thought they held no strategic importance for Britain and decided to de-militarise them and leave them undefended.
“As the German army stormed through France in June 1940, some 30,000 Channel Islanders (one third of the total population) were evacuated. Once the initial panic was over, the rest decided to stay and tough it out, mainly on Jersey and Guernsey.” -BBC History
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society tells a story of some locals who stayed on their island. It was written by Mary Ann Shaffer, who died before it was published.
“Mary Ann Shaffer worked as an editor, a librarian, and in bookshops. Her life-long dream was to someday write her own book and publish it. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was her first novel. Unfortunately, she became very ill with cancer and so she asked her niece, Annie Barrows, the author of the children’s series Ivy and Bean, as well as The Magic Half, to help her finish the book. Mary Ann Shaffer died in February 2008, a few months before her first novel was published.” – Jacket notes
It is a book about loyalty and unrequited love.
Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay) has the least screen time of the main characters but it is her story which unites them all. Choosing to stay in Guernsey before occupation she is instrumental in forming the society and her involvement with a German soldier produces a daughter. However, her defiance of the occupied forces leads to her being sent to a concentration camp on the continent.
These events are gradually put together by author Juliet Ashton (Lily James) when she invites herself to Guernsey to meet the society members. Here she encounters delightful characters, Amelia (Penelope Wilton), Eben (Tom Courtenay), Isola (Katherine Parkinson), Eli (Kit Conor) and Dawsey (Michiel Huisman), who has written to her requesting information about the author Charles Lamb. Dawsey is surrogate father of Elizabeth’s orphaned child, Kit (Florence Keen).
What follows is the society’s story told in flashback and the peacetime equivalent of Dawsey’s unrequited love. Just as he held back his desire for Elizabeth, the genial farmer restrains his love for Juliet.
Director Mike Newell and the script writers have one of their weaker moments when Dawsey finally realises he has to make a move on Juliet and he heads to London by ferry. Meanwhile, Juliet has shaken off her wealthy American fiance, Mark (Glenn Powell) and is heading to Guernsey. They nearly miss each other when the ferry berths.
Newell is no stranger to light-heartedness with the classic British comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) on his CV but can be gritty as Donnie Brasco (1997) proved. In this, Johnny Depp plays the title role of an FBI agent who infiltrates the mafia, aided by Al Pacino’s made guy tutelage.
In summary, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a pretty average movie made from a pretty good book, where Juliet’s best friend-publisher Sidney (Matthew Goode) and other literary and journalistic types play a major role in the plot.