The film’s trailer and film’s beginning establish the origin of the name of a book club in the Island of Guernsey. It all began in 1941 during the World War II when a group of four English people, two men and two women, are walking at night-time in German occupied Guernsey. They are stopped by Germans for breaching curfew. When asked for their reason, one of the women notices a book in the pocket of one of the Germans and says that they were at a book group. Collectively they improvise the book group’s name: the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and avoid arrest when one of the men throws up on the soldiers’ boots.
This film is the second film (the other being BEAST set on Jersey Island) to open this month that has a setting on a United Kingdom associated island in the sea between Britain and France. It is beneficial to know a bit that Guernsey like Jersey Island in order to better appreciate the film. Guernsey is is not part of the United Kingdom though the populace share a lot in common with the British including the currency of pound sterling The island is self governing though protected by Britain’s Military. The island’s landscape is stunning, especially the beaches and rocky cliffs, much like Wales, west of Britain. The film is shot in England and at Ealing Studios and not on Guernsey though the film would definitely aid the Guernsey Tourism Board in efforts to promote visits to the island.
The film has a strong female slant, understandably being based on the 2008 novel of the same name by two female writers Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, with a female protagonist at the heart of the story. All the males have secondary importance in the story, serving the purpose of the females. One could suitably classify this WWII historical drama as a chick flick.
The story, set in 1946 on Guernsey Island, concerns an author Juliet Ashton (Lily James) invited to the island to address the local book club. She learns of the story of Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Finlay) who has a daughter with a German soldier during the German Occupation of the island. The message of the film is show how books can affect human lives.
Lily James (Kate Winslet was originally slotted) delivers a sufficiently fine performance while her co-star Dutch Game of Thrones actor, Michiel Huisman was chosen for her main love interest likely for his resemblance to Alan Bates who has a similar scruffy look in FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD. Matthew Goode has another gay role as Juliet’s publisher while British TV actress Penelope Wilton steals the show as Amelia Maugery.
One would naturally expect a whimsical female fantasy from the FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL director director Mike Newell. The film succeeds with regards to this respect. Commercial filmgoers would be more likely entertained by this film than the serious film critic who would be quick to shrug at the beleaguered dialogue and identify the plentiful clichés.