- Colin Fraser
THE GUERNSEY LITERARY SOCIETY
TWO STARS A young author heads to Guernsey to meet the dashing Dawsey Adams and his book club.
Lily James, Michiel Huisman
PERIOD ROMANTIC DRAMA #GUERNSEYMOVIE
You can usually spot chick-lit from the kooky and brand-friendly title (Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe for instance), and so it is with THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows’ hugely popular, sentimental novel about post-war shenanigans on the British isle of Guernsey. Adapted by the hugely popular and sentimental director Mike Newell (FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL), with what seems like most of the cast of TV’s hugely popular and sentimental DOWNTON ABBEY, what could possibly go wrong? Well, nothing really, if popular, sentimental (you get the drift) films are your cup of post-war tea. The sort where impossibly beautiful women (usually professionals) stare into the rugged eyes of impossibly handsome men (usually farmers) and fall in love. There are complications, usually from another impossibly handsome man (military) to which the woman is already engaged. Set it against an exotic location with a couple of colourful characters, and the formula is complete.
And so it is with TGLAPPS, for want of a better acronym. Juliette Ashton (Lily James) is a London author in need of a story, Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman) is a pig farmer in Guernsey. As Europe picks itself up after the horrors of World War 2, Guernsey finds itself without a bookshop and thus Dawsey’s book club (the titular society) without product. He contacts Juliette, they strike up correspondence and she sniffs out her new novel amid secrets found on the island. The rest is per the recipe.
James manages to inject some freshness into the inevitable goings on, while stalwarts such as Penelope Wilton bring an edge to otherwise stock characters. But right there is the great disappointment of THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY: a story that has much to say about the hardships of occupation, the place of women in a society busy redefining itself, the entanglement of American influence, the ideology of ‘the other’ and a raft of other themes which are given only a cursory nod. Instead, Newell serves up stock romance instead, one that’s too long, too rote, too incredulous. A film that, once cooked, is about as satisfying as the titular pie itself (which is to say, it isn’t).