The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of my favorite books, so you can imagine how excited I was for the release of the film adaptation. As soon as the film became available on Netflix this past week, I watched it. And while the film is not as good as the book, it’s still a wonderful old-fashioned romance full of love, friendship, tragedy, and joy. In all, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a romantic period drama triumph that should make both book fans and non-book fans happy.
The Story – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
If you haven’t read the book, the film tells the story of Juliet Ashton, a writer in London during post World War II. While exchanging letters with a man named Dawsey from the island of Guernsey, she becomes intrigued about his stories of the residents in a book club during the German occupation. So, she travels there to write a story about their unique experiences during the war (shown in flashbacks) and ends up falling in love with the people and the place.
Now, I’ve recently visited Guernsey and it’s obvious the movie was not filmed on location. However, they picked a beautiful, similar locale that reminds you of this magical place. And hopefully, the film and book will inspire more people to visit in the way Sullivan’s adaptation of Anne of Green Gables inspired fans to visit Prince Edward Island.
Book Vs. Film
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is an epistolary novel written with only letters, which is not easy to translate to the screen. But thankfully, the screenwriter and director were able to pull it off. However, book fans will need to prepare for some changes and missing elements. As well as some of your favorite characters receiving less screen time.
In the film adaptation, fewer letters are exchanged between Juliet and Dawsey before she goes to Guernsey. And the characters are introduced in completely different ways. Not only that, the character of Elizabeth McKenna (the leader of the literary society in the past) doesn’t quite shine as much as she does in the book. Her heroism is all still there, just abbreviated to fit a two-hour film. One almost wishes this could have been a mini-series so we could see more of Elizabeth – arguably the real heroine of the novel.
Book fans should also expect many scenes to be cut due to length or even changed. However, the film captures the essence of the book and does not change the story or the characters. So, as an adaptation, the film is quite successful. And as a standalone, the audience should enjoy the movie and understand the entire story. But if you haven’t read the book, I recommend you check it out to get more fleshed-out versions of everything you see on screen. You won’t be sorry!
The Characters and Cast
If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, then you’ll appreciate the mini-reunion with four cast members starring in this film (Lily James, Jessica Brown Findlay, Matthew Goode, and Penelope Wilton). The rest of the cast also shines in their roles with each character mostly feeling like they walked off the pages of the book.
In the lead, you have Lily James as Juliet Ashton, a writer with a streak of independence and a longing to find a place that feels like home. While some of her wit was lost in the adaptation as well as a few years cut off from the book character’s age, James still gives a wonderful performance and believably embodies Juliet Ashton.
As Dawsey, the farmer who loves books, is Michiel Huisman (The Age of Adaline) who continues to prove he’s perfect leading man material.
Then there’s Jessica Brown Findlay as the brave Elizabeth McKenna who always follows her heart. And really could anyone have played this part so well?.
In the role of the boyfriend is Glen Powell (Set it Up) as the slightly controlling American in love with Juliet. Then there’s Matthew Goode as Sidney Starke, Juliet’s publisher. Arguably the closest to the character and best cast of the production – if only he had more screen time.
And to top it off, a group of scene-stealers play the other members of the literary society brilliantly. There’s Penelope Wilton as Amelia Maugery, a woman in mourning; Katherine Parkinson (Doc Martin) as Isola Pribby, a quirky spinster with a lot of soul; and Tom Courtenay (Doctor Zhivago, Little Dorrit) as Eben Ramsey, an older man with a heart of gold.
While the film doesn’t play the mystery of who Juliet falls in love with as much as the book does, fans of old-fashioned romance will love this movie. The love story that builds between Dawsey and Juliet is beautiful to watch onscreen. The chemistry between the actors is believable, and the audience will definitely root for their love story.
And on a fun note, fans of North and South (2004) will love the (near) ending of the movie which is similar in style to the ending of the popular BBC miniseries. Once you watch, you should know what I mean!
The Production Quality
Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) as director crafted a stunning old-fashioned romance sure to be a popular choice amongst period drama aficionados for years to come. The cinematography is gorgeous with the color schemes perfectly matching the moods and themes of the story. The costumes capture the essence and sometimes glamour of the 1940s and the hairstyles are beautiful.
Overall, if you enjoyed the novel, love period dramas, mystery, believe in the magic of books, appreciate fantastic acting or a good story, then you’ll likely love this film. Sure, it’s not “exactly” the book. But the essence remains intact. The film is important because it’s the type of movie we need more of in this world. And besides, any film that has a scene with characters debating which Brontë sister was the most revolutionary for women is an automatic win for me!
Where to Watch: Now streaming on Netflix
Content Note: PG-13/TV-14 for war-related themes and tense moments.
Have you watched The Guernsey and Literary Potato Peel Pie Society? What did you think of the film adaptation?
Photos: Netflix/Studio Canal
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