The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society movie review: Netflix film transports you to World War II

Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

August 11, 2018 13:38:19 IST


Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, Mike Newell’s latest Netflix historical drama film titled The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is the sort of movie that instantaneously takes you back to the period it is set in, simply by the sheer force of its authenticity.

A still from

A still from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Netflix

Newell himself is no stranger to creating great atmosphere. With such films as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to his name, Newell has successfully created worlds which manage to draw you in without your knowing how and when. In his latest film, directing an ensemble cast – half of them from the popular British television series Downtown Abbey – Newell takes us back to 1946 England, when World War II has just ended, but the scars it has left behind have still not healed.

The film begins in 1941, when the war is at its peak. The British island of Guernsey has been under German occupation, with Nazi soldiers imposing a strict curfew and fortifying the island. All livestock and alcohol have been confiscated to feed the German troops, and local residents have been forced to survive on potatoes alone. When a group of five men and women of various ages clandestinely meet to have a feast over meat and wine, a Nazi patrol group stops them on their way back home. To save themselves, they quickly conjure up a lie, claiming that they are members of a book club. They even hastily come up with a rather awkward name for their club. The name sticks and the five members continue to meet, long after the Nazis have stopped checking on them.

Cut to 1946, when a bright young author named Juliet Ashton is on a book tour through the country – an exercise she finds most stifling and against her nature. When one of the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society writes a letter to her, Juliet has an irrepressible urge to go to the island and learn more about this fascinating club. Once she is on the island, she quickly forms a warm bond with the members of the club, and the more she learns about them, the more she begins to believe that in all the places of the world where she can possibly be, it is in the island of Guernsey that she belongs the most.

The film has all the ingredients of an old-fashioned romantic drama set in the backdrop of a historical context – in this case, World War II. The beautifully written screenplay by Kevin Hood, Don Roos and Tom Bezucha, lets you relish the beautiful landscape of the island, with clear blue skies and the azure sea stretching all the way to the horizon, without once affecting the pace of the story in an adverse way. The entire plot is set in a rural world as British as it can be, with its taverns and barns and pig-sties and Sunday markets. There is a lot in the story and the screenplay gives each character a distinct flavour and aura of his or her own. Even the seemingly most inconsequential characters are chiseled out with great care, and you will fall in love with them by the end of the film. Watch out, for instance, for a scene between the protagonist and her fiance in an upscale dining house towards the end of the film. In a gentle but clever masterstroke of penmanship, the scene tells us so much about Juliet’s American suitor that it will make you marvel at what good writing can do for a film.

Among all the memorable characters, the one I personally loved the most was that of Sidney Stark – Juliet’s publisher and close friend. Matthew Goode plays the part with impeccable British charm, and with admirable reserve. For more than half of the two-hour runtime of the film, I was constantly rooting for the man when he was not even part of the main story. The fond scenes between him and Juliet are by far the best moments in the film.

Lily James plays Juliet Ashton – an author who has found fame from behind the veil of a pen-name, but one who feels suffocated within the social circles of London. She finds her true calling when she reaches the island of Guernsey and mingles with the townsfolk and learns of how deeply the war has affected them. Writing their story thus becomes the sole purpose in her life. Ashton delivers a flawless performance, and the scenes in which she struggles to find acceptance in the island – not as a celebrity, but as a human being – are performed to perfection.

Among the islanders, Penelope Wilton and Katherine Parkinson are the ones who caught my attention the most – as Amelia and Isola respectively – two founding members of the book club. While Wilton puts up a stern and defensive front even after the war has ended, Parkinson’s happy and resigned attitude takes the film to an entirely new dimension altogether. While one seeks to remain detached and distant, the other’s easy charm shows that she genuinely cares for Juliet.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society ticks all the right boxes. I have no hesitation in saying that it is the best Netflix original film I have seen this year so far. I highly recommend the film and I suggest you sit down to watch it with a box of tissues at hand. Whether you find yourself in the happy moments or the tragic ones, chances are you are going to need those tissues.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is currently streaming on Netflix.

Updated Date: Aug 11, 2018 13:38 PM