In this modern age, receiving anything by post is a rare occurrence, so you can imagine how overjoyed I was to find an invitation to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society movie premiere in my letterbox. As I ripped open the envelope I was immediately intrigued by the peculiar title and curious to find out what a potato peel pie has to do with a literary society, and what the heck is a potato peel pie? Despite the funny title, this was a gorgeous film with a huge heart.
As the film began I realised that my lack of potato peel pie knowledge were not only natural, but central to the mysteries of the plot. As the narrative unfolds we get to know the quirky bunch of people who formed a literary and potato peel pie society during the German occupation of Guernsey, a British island off the coast of Normandy. The society begins quite humorously as a cover story to hide a contraband roast pig, bringing together an eclectic and unlikely mixture of kindred spirits who meet regularly to read by the fire and bond over their love of classic literature.
Lily James is the perfect leading lady as Juliet Ashton, a passionate writer from London. Her biography of Anne Brontë sold only 28 copies, but Juliet finds some success writing a column under a pseudonym. We first meet Juliet as she attends her book tour at Foyles bookstore in central London. She has found herself at a crossroads in her writing career – she is expected to produce another book under her pen name, but yearns to write something more fulfilling. Despite being romanced by a dashing American who showers her with flattery and roses, her feelings towards him are fairly lukewarm. By chance, Juliet receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a pig farmer from Guernsey who is in possession of one of her second hand books. Dawsey is looking for a book about Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb, which Juliet posts to him and a beautiful friendship flourishes between the two via letter.
The lovely allusions to literature and books drew me into the narrative. Reading is often a solitary adventure as other readers tend to hide in the comfort of their own homes, snuggled up with a book and cup of tea. This film is a love letter to literary people that inspires a shared sense of belonging, I felt understood and validated in the knowledge that there are other people like me in this world.
“We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us”
Juliet finds herself so captivated by Dawsey’s story that she sets off to visit the island for herself. Upon arrival, she is quite shocked to find the group are highly guarded and quite unwelcoming, but after sharing a magical evening of literature together she becomes deeply invested in uncovering their story.
Against their wishes, Juliet begins to piece together snippets of what transpired, hoping to understand why the members of the society are so reluctant to talk about the absent founder of the group, Elizabeth McKenna.
The film reflects on the German occupation of the Channel Islands. The inspiring landscapes of Devon and Cornwall posing as Guernsey, the backdrop is part of the romance of the plot. The lush green cliffs, rugged coastlines, quaint cottages, country gardens, and pristine beaches will surely induce a serious case of wanderlust.
“Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.
How delightful if that were true”
Interestingly, the novel was written by two authors, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. While Shaffer carried out all of the initial Guernsey research and dreamed up the plot, she sadly became quite unwell after completing the first draft of the novel and did not live long enough to see her work published or become a success. Annie Barrows reworked Shaffer’s original draft to transform the story into a work that could be published.
Overall, I thought The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was a beautifully produced film. I connected with the characters and their stories, and was moved to tears as Juliet unearthed the history of the island and her newfound circle of friends. I loved this film and found it unexpectedly poignant and heartwarming.
The below trailer for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society provides the perfect summary of the film.