Netflix Movie Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

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Like the pet that found its way into your home that you wonder how you ever lived without, have you ever stumbled on a book when you needed it the most and thought that it was written especially for you?

The power of books to unite and inspire us is at the heart of director Mike Newell's lush adaptation of the 2008 number one New York Times bestselling novelThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

No stranger to ensemble pictures or literary adaptations given his work on Four Weddings and a Funeral and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire respectively, in Guernsey (which is largely set on that very Channel Island), through the use of both flashback and dialogue, Newell and company breathe fresh life into the 1940s period movie while showing us a side of WWII largely overlooked onscreen.

Adapted by a trio of talented scripters, including Don Roos, Kevin Hood, and Thomas Bezuchua, all of whom worked on it at different stages, Guernsey centers on Juliet Ashton (Cinderella and Mamma Mia sequel star Lily James), a London based writer who tries to keep up a good front while dealing with the stressful after effects of World War II in 1946.

With half of her time devoted to book readings and apartment hunting with her best friend and publisher Sidney (Matthew Goode) and the rest spent dining and dancing with her dashing American GI beau, Mark (Glen Powell), Juliet’s daily routine is shaken up for the better when she receives a warm and insightful letter from a farmer from Guernsey named Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman).

Having come across her name and address in one of her old Charles Lamb books, Dawsey asks Juliet where he could perhaps track down more of the author's work for his eponymous book club, which he and a handful of other Islanders had created out of necessity when they were caught out after curfew by German soldiers who took over Guernsey during the war.

Initially forced after their run-in to keep up appearances with the club, eventually the small group of friends and neighbors found themselves welcoming both the escape from the realities of war and conversational debate that each literary meeting delivered.

Fascinated, after she sends Dawsey the book he’d been searching for and a letter of her own, the two correspond back-and-forth a short while before Juliet impulsively writes back once more. Inviting herself to their book club meeting, Juliet kisses her bewildered boyfriend goodbye and catches a ship to Guernsey before she can change her mind or Dawsey says no.

Thrilled to have a real writer in their midst, over the course of an evening of lively Brontë discussion and a taste of potato peel pie, Juliet discovers there's much more to the story of the literary society than meets the eye.

Becoming fast friends with the group (including her smoldering pen pal), Juliet extends her stay, determined to locate the society's missing founder, Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findlay) and learn more about exactly what happened on the island during the war.

Unable to film on location in Guernsey due to both the logistical nightmare of sending cast, crew, and equipment back-and-forth across the English Channel as well as overhauling the island to make it look like the 1940s, Newell's talented behind-the-scenes crew – especially production designer James Merrifield, costumer Charlotte Walter, and cinematographer Zac Nicholson – transport the viewer nonetheless by filling the frame with exquisite detail.

Instantly inviting and richly atmospheric, Guernsey recalls the warmth and ensemble camaraderie of Chocolat. Featuring four actors from Downton Abbey in key roles, Guersney benefits from the chemistry of its cast, not only in terms of its romantic leads (in the love triangle of James with fellow up-and-coming movie stars Huisman and Powell) but especially within the Guernsey book club itself.

While we do have more questions about some of the film's supporting characters – chief among them regarding Penelope Wilton's Amelia – that I’ll eagerly look to the book to answer and resolve, by working in a compelling wartime mystery, the film's screenwriters remind us that this is much more than a traditional love story.

Boasting a boldly feminist heroine (exceedingly well played by Lily James) and a moving storyline, Guernsey caps off a terrific summer of female oriented Netflix fare with one of the streaming giant's strongest features.

As savory as it is hearty, while avid readers and book club veterans are sure to stream the literary adaptation on day one, in spite of its clunky title, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is sure to become a word-of-mouth hit before long.

Inspiring us to scour our bookshelves for that one book that brings a world full of possibilities to life as well as find a Guernsey-like group of our own to be with, connect with, and read with, Newell’s admirable feature is as in love with ideas as it is romance.

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