The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

MIKE NEWELL

Bil’s rating (out of 5):   BBB.  United Kingdom//USA, 2018.  , , , , , .  Screenplay by , , , based on the novel by , .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by Film Editing by .

Lily James and Michiel Huisman in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

plays an author whose Colonel Blimp-esque satires written under a pen name have brought her a modest level of renown in post-war Britain, but have also created a longing in her to write something more personal using her own identity.  She is inspired by a letter she receives from a pig farmer on the island of Guernsey, notifying her that he has found her address in a used book he purchased that bore her name and address inside its cover, and asking if she wouldn’t mind sending him information as to where he can order a Charles Lamb book from a London bookstore.  He wants the book for his little reading club bearing the weighty name of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and James, intrigued by the club and the story behind its inception, follows her instinct to the beautiful channel island to meet its members.  Spending time with these charming individuals, she learns their dark and moving past, which involves a pig roast, the book club that formed as a cover-up for it, and the passionate and principled woman () who was a key member of their little makeshift family but is now missing.  James is put into a personal quandary by the fact that her handsome American boyfriend () has just proposed to her, but the pig farmer () has turned out to be quite the earthy hunk.  This sincere and straightforward period romance by Mike Newell, a master of the genre, wears its heart on its sleeve and is all the more enjoyable for it, beautifully photographed and benefiting greatly from the charisma of the actors and their very real chemistry.  James is always at her best when playing this kind of clever yet guileless character, she carries the whole thing quite easily on her shoulders, but the elements of both literary appreciation and wartime social politics that the film pretends are essential to the plot are treated as incidental decoration (with the most serious of them, Findlay’s disappearance, disrespected as a subplot); it’s fine that a film about a book club has a love story as its primary motive, but a love story that is only pretending to be about a book club is an insult to lonely hearts everywhere.  Relegating all discussion of great writing to blind dialogue over the end credits reminds one of the opportunities lost here.

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