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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: My take on the movie starring Lily James, Michiel Huisman and Matthew Goode #book2movie

Lily James stars as Juliet in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

You won't find the island of Guernsey listed as one of the locations for the film The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. According to my research, the film was shot, not on Guernsey, but in Devon and Cornwall so I felt duty bound to warn my neighbor who came over to watch the movie. You see while I haven’t been to Guernsey, she has. Born on the island, she was one of the children evacuated from Guernsey at the start of WWII in 1939. She was eight years old at the time and like all school-age children, she was evacuated without her parents just before the Germans began their five-year occupation of the island. Many of those kids lived for months with sponsoring families in the English countryside before their families joined them in England. Some of the children, like the boy Eli, were evacuated for the entire five years. Some, like my neighbor, never returned to the island as children at all. Despite the fact that the movie was not shot on Guernsey, as the boat carrying Juliet from London nears the island and a postcard-pretty seaport comes into view, it was Guernsey my neighbor saw. “There it is!’’ she said.“That’s St. Peter Port. That’s the island’s main town.’’ 

The real Saint Peter Port on the island of Guernsey

And so it was. Regardless of reality, we were all transported to Guernsey. A beautifully lush green island and the site of a lovely WWII period romance between a writer (Lily James) arriving on the island to interview the members of a book club formed to help each other through the trials of living under the German occupation. 

I’ve shared my thoughts on the book by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer which I loved and about the film many times over the years on this blog since I first learned the book was coming to the screen back in 2012. With all the time I've spent thinking about the book, dream-casting the movie, I think it would be impossible for me to not to feel some small disappointment that the film didn’t quite live up to its source, the story of the novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows via all those lovely letters. 

The filmmakers have abridged the story, sacrificing some of the minor characters and using shorthand to tell Elizabeth McKenna’s story—for those of us who read the book that was likely all we needed. Hopefully, that translates to those who aren't as familiar with the source material. They also brushed aside some of the darkest elements of how the war affected the Islanders during the five years of the German occupation—toward the end of the war things were so bad even the Germans were starving—to focus on the lighter side and the romance. In any case, I was deeply moved and swept away. 

Michiel Huisman is the reticent pig farm, Dawsey Adams

Lily James was lovely, with her very English looks, and modest manner as Juliet. Michael Huisman, who many of us know as the sexy and fairly macho Daario Naharis from Game of Thrones, was surprisingly spot on as the shy, strong silent type, Dawsey. Much more pig farmer than warrior. Matthew Goode was good as ever but decidedly underutilized as Juliet’s homosexual publisher, Sydney Stark. Fellow Downton Abbey alumni Jessica Brown Findlay and Penelope Wilton were fine respectively as the almost mythical Elizabeth McKenna and Amelia Maugery but for me, the standout in the supporting cast was Katherine Parkinson—the receptionist on Doc Martin, the Mommy blogger on In the Club—with her velvety voice and cozy ways as the virginal craftswoman of potent potables. To be honest, I loved all the characters as I did in the book. All except for the old biddy who ran the inn. Of course, I wasn't supposed to like her, so well done Bronagh Gallagher, who according to my hubby is actually a very nice woman. [He worked with Gallagher on 2006’s Tristan & Isolde. An assistant director on the movie, one of the things he did was hold up a shield of sorts to keep the sand out of her eyes when they shooting on the shore in Ireland. Very, very windy.]

Glenn Powell as Mark Reynolds with Lily James as Juliet

The only character I wasn’t on board with in terms of casting was Glenn Powell as Mark Reynolds, the arrogant and wildly wealthy American. Powell played the part well but he just wasn’t my idea of the character I’d read in the book. In my earlier dream-casting, I believe I suggested Aaron Eckhardt. He still has my vote.

The movie is beautiful to look at—whether it's Cornwall, Devon or Guernsey—and the story has the expected but still happy ending. Coming in at two hours and four minutes, director Mike Newell made use of every second. 

I do wish we’d had the chance to see the movie on the big screen here in the states as they did in the UK and elsewhere but I’m grateful to have at least seen it on Netflix. Even if you see the movie first, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back and read the book for an even richer experience. It’s that good.

I don’t do stars but if I had to rate it I’d give the film four out of four potato peel pies.

Here’s the Netflix trailer