The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of my favorite books. (Seriously. You can read all about it here.) Imagine my delight when I saw that they were turning it into a movie! Movies about fellow bibliophiles are some of my favorite things. They have such a gift of accurately expressing the pure joy that can be found in reading, all while telling an engaging story through film. It’s the most wonderful combination!
For those who are unfamiliar with this particular love letter to books, it tells the story of Juliet Ashton (Lily James, Mama Mia! Here We Go Again), a bright young writer who is looking to turn her successful career into something more personal. Inspiration comes in the form of a letter from Guernsey, in which a man named Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman, Game of Thrones) explains that he came across an old copy of a book she used to own while he was searching for reading material during the Nazi occupation of his island (the story takes place in 1946, just after WWII). He politely requests her help in attaining another book by the same author since bookshops on Guernsey have yet to reopen. Juliet happily obliges in exchange for more information about the occupation and the curious little book club he mentions called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Soon, she’s on her way to Guernsey herself to meet the members of the book club and tell their untold story through her writing. What she finds, of course, is far more complicated, compelling, and life-changing than she could have imagined.
One of the things I loved the most about this movie was how Juliet followed her instincts, regardless of how little sense they made. I realize that sounds like bad life advice, but for someone looking to further her career, she made all the “wrong” choices. She’s a character with character, and that’s refreshing.
Mike Newell’s (Mona Lisa Smile) direction is fantastic as he lifts the epistolary novel (read: a story told through letters) off the page and shows, rather than tells. It’s a difficult task, but he performs it beautifully. I cried at the most unexpected moments in this one, which to me is an excellent sign of a good adaptation. (I thought I knew what was coming!) He made the most of the little moments, which I particularly love as a viewer. The first moment that hit me was early on in the movie when Juliet has a flashback to entering her bombed-out room during the Blitz. The shock and surreality of that moment rocked me in a way I didn’t expect. It was an effective way to usher the audience into the devastation that was experienced by ordinary people, which is a point well-made by the movie as a whole.
Also, the costumes. I just CANNOT EVEN. I want every single item in Juliet’s wardrobe, and I will stop at nothing to get it. Vintage shops, I’m coming for you.
As much as I see myself in Juliet, I think Juliet and I both aspire to be like Elizabeth (played by Jessica Brown Findlay, Downton Abbey), the brave woman who served as the linchpin of the society. She could never stand to see injustice; even in the middle of the occupation, she took care of everyone around her and saved lives without a second thought. She encompassed the spirit of the society and those who survived unspeakable things, all while making life more pleasant for those around her.
I expected to enjoy this movie, but I didn’t expect to watch it twice in one day. I loved it that much. As Juliet tells Dawsey at one point, “I was writing to someone who already understood me.” That’s how this movie made me feel: Understood.