I haven’t read the book of the same name that The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) was adapted from, but the film did make me want to read books in general and maybe start a book club, just because it was so darn delightful in promoting the communal aspect of discussing books. And as Frock Flicks resident literary nerd, the scene with an intense debate over a fictional biography of Anne Brontë was right up my alley. In fact, I was impressed overall at how this supposed romantic-drama was more about books and the lingering post-traumatic stress of World War II than setting up characters to fall in love (though that happens too).
Not to say this is some great cinematic masterpiece, and it’s certainly not the world’s most amazing costume drama. As we often point out, if you can’t get 1940s right onscreen — when there is a vast wealth of original photos and extant garments all around — then you’re just not trying for historical accuracy at all. This movie hits the mark nicely on the costume front. The actors are all pros, with standbys from Downton Abbey like Jessica Brown Findlay, Lily James, Matthew Goode, and Penelope Wilton, among others.
The action revolves around Lily James as author Juliet who is still struggling with the loss of her parents in the war and dealing with a bit of imposter syndrome about her writing. Mathew Goode plays her unobtrusively gay publisher Sidney, very much in the ‘like a brother to her’ fashion. Juliet has a totally random American boyfriend Mark (Glen Powell), who just likes to party, and is so very obviously a poor match.
I almost think Lily James could become a better actress if she were given / could choose better scripts because I saw hints of her talents in Guernsey, especially in the early scenes in London. Juliet is a conflicted woman, torn between her own financial success and post-war suffering going on around her, as well as her own emotional suffering.
James plays this in slight inflections, and I was most struck at the scene where she’s wearing a stunning yellow-gold evening gown to a party with Mark. The character Juliet doesn’t look comfortable in her own skin with all the grand celebrations. It’s striking because Lily James is a traditionally beautiful woman and usually looks comfortable in evening gowns if you see pictures of her on the red carpet. But in small ways that she moves and how she carries herself in that scene, the character looks uncomfortable and physically unhappy.
The rest of the story is both predictable and satisfying in that, as I said, there’s as much emphasis on books, community, and the stresses of the war as there is on romantic entanglements. It’s not simply a meet-cute affair, although I do think that if it had been filmed in the early ’90s, Hugh Grant would have been cast in Michiel Huisman’s Guernsey farmer role. He’s probably the most stock character in the whole flick, and IDK why anyone would fall in love with him specifically. It would have made just as much sense for Juliet to simply take up residence on the island and be friends with the whole lot of ’em because there’s more connections built up around the various members of the society than just her and that guy. Eh, whatevs.
Have you read the book or do you want to now after seeing The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society?
I liked the movie very much. The book was amazing and you should read it.
I read the book in preparation to watch the film. The connection between the two parties of the love interest is more developed in the book.
Ahh, that would make sense. It’s very casual in the movie!
It’s on my to watch list.
The novel is better, but I still adore the movie. Dawsey is a lot more awkwardly endearing in the book–I would have never guessed they would end up together at the beginning of the novel, which made for a nice surprise. Of course they had to add the race-to-tell-the-one-you-love-how-you-feel in the movie, but at least they kept some of the book’s dialogue. The lead up to Juliet and Dawsey’s engagement is so adorable in the book.
My favorite addition to the movie is definitely the Anne Bronte conversation. I took a Romanticism class last spring and my professor and I decided we were on a quest to rehabilitate her reputation after Charlotte essentially whitewashed her after her death (he’s writing a book; I just did a presentation in class). Anne was just as radical as her sisters, if not more so!
The Bronte conversation isn’t in the book? Wow, then props to the filmmakers for expanding on that — I really enjoyed that part & appreciated the nuance.
I didn’t love the book; I enjoyed the film much better.
(In part because about every 30 pages one of the letters would mention them eating cats, and general violence toward cats during the war and I was getting really sick of it and finally just yelled, “What has the author got against cats?” There was no mention of any other animal abuse, so WHY?)
The movie was sweet, though. I watched it like 3 times a week in a row. I like Lily James. She’s charismatic and I’m always fond of her characters.
Cats?!? Omg, I don’t think I could take that :(
I mean it’s not graphic or anything, it’s just the constant reminder of it — and I love cats and have a good imagination, so I kept going WHY.
I really enjoyed it. It’s not a big movie, and maybe it could’ve been?, but there is something cozy about small done well, and I think this fits that, even if it’s not perfect. The community aspect and clear sense of what literature can do for people was on the money for bibliophiles, and while it was a light touch on some of the harder themes, it did well—I wasn’t expecting a thoughtful reflection of trauma, nor the way that it showed challenges of living under occupation but also the humanity of the enemy, and what collaboration and betrayal could look like and do.
On the costumes they absolutely couldn’t have gotten it wrong without looking silly. I did express while watching it a desire for Lily James’ wardrobe; nothing so spectacular as some of the incredible dresses more removed from our time period, but quite lovely nonetheless.
Agreed – it was unexpectedly thoughtful! Not earth-shaking, but smarter than it looks from the promos, which make it seem like just another historical romance.
I read the book in 2012 while vacationing on Guernsey.
The island was abuzz with rumors back then that Kenneth Branagh would direct and Kate Winslet would star in it. (Many locals hoped on being an Extra in it).
The book was such a lovely read…a real page-turner and far better than the movie. I loved the literary comradely as well.
But with such an anticipated film it’s difficult to deliver.
The biggest let down, for me, was their choice of filming locations. They never set foot on Guernsey soil (I understand that Guernsey has changed too much/build-up since 1945) but still…..
It was all shot back in the UK in Devon and Cornwall.
The islanders must have been disappointed as well.
But it’s still a lovely movie and I think that Lili James is growing in her craft as well.
And I have a soft spot for the love interest: as he’s a fellow Dutch national.
I didn’t dig into the location, but I did wonder if it wasn’t filmed on Guernsey. Pity!
I noticed that or googled it and found out.. quite sad as we were all marveling at the location—our adulation could’ve gone to the real Guernsey, which I’m sure is stunning. Also I was personally miffed about the PBS Little Women not filming in Massachusetts (plenty of spots in the area are close enough to work for that era), and it’s very tied into New England… so as a disappointed bay state native I felt for Guernsey quite a bit.
I absolutely adore the book so I did prefer the book to the movie, as they of course had to leave lots out! There is a lot more development between the characters and there are some pretty sweet scenes (like the final proposal scene!) and also very moving and shocking things they leave out. They changed a few things too that I didn’t really like. If you haven’t read it you really should!
I had an amazing time visiting Guernsey and Jersey a few years ago and so was sad too they didn’t film there as it does look different along the coastline. St Peter Port is a really cute town that has some parts that are still quite similar to how it was then, so it was a shame they didn’t film there at least.
I think this book would make an awesome TV show, where they can show the characters both in the past during the war and in the present and develop the relationships more fully. I think it would work much better that way!
Loved the book, but haven’t seen the movie since it’s not on DVD and just can’t add Netflix since I have Hulu, Amazon Prime (Acorn, Britbox + Starz).
I have read the book and seen the movie. In my opinion, the book was the literary equivalent of “The Vicar of Dibley”–everyone in this small village was a quirky, kooky character and not a fully-developed character. Those who are predisposed to being charmed by this material will be; those who are not predisposed to this type of material will not be won over by it. That was a long way of saying: Despite the book’s many flaws, I enjoyed it. I was charmed by the quirky characters, and the book did a good job of conveying the deprivations and humiliations that the inhabitants of the Channel Islands faced during the war.
The movie missed an opportunity to smooth over the book’s rough edges. Instead it was adapted almost slavishly to the book. This enterprise could have been transformed from an Ok (yet charming) book into a good and engaging movie. In the comments someone said that Kenneth Branagh had been rumored to direct this material. Well, in his hands we would have had a much better movie. Instead it was an OK (yet charming) book that was turned into an OK (yet charming) movie. Thankfully, the movie adapters left out the book’s completely ridiculous final act.
The actors did their best, but they were miscast. I think that Jessica Brown Findley and Lily James should’ve switched roles. Findley has the gravitas to be the reporter character, and James has the goody-two shoes quality of the beloved town character. Michiel Huisman was too conventionally handsome for his role. As others have said, in the book, the romance between his character and the main character is an out of left field surprise that develops very slowly. Huisman has poster-boy good looks, and it was telegraphed immediately to the viewers that he would become a love interest for the main character. I think they should’ve cast someone who is handsome (but not obviously so) for that role in order to maintain the surprise of the romance. I’m thinking of actors like Robson Green (the police officer in Grantchester), Richard Harrington (Verity’s husband in Poldark), Andrew Scarborough (Farmer Drewe in Downton Abbey), Michael Fox (Daisy’s fiance in Downton Abbey: The Motion Picture), Shaun Evans (from Endeavour), or Michael Socha (from Being Human).
A detail I loved is the reusing of costume pieces. Juliet wears the same skirt or blouse or jacket at different times. Unlike how most movies are so unrealistic in that a character has a neverending wardrobe and nothing is ever seen twice, juliet comes to the island with a small suitcase so it makes sense that her outfits repeat themselves.