Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for May 6th, 2020

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) ***

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 6th May, 2020

The Guernsey LiteraryA few years after the Second World War, a young writer receives a letter from a man in Guernsey who has found a book by Charles Lamb with her name and address inside, which leads to a sort of pen pal correspondence. Echoes here of 84 Charing Cross Road. Restless with her life in London, despite a very attentive and affluent American boyfriend, she decides to visit the island, mainly to find out more about a book group which a young pig farmer and his friends were obliged by serendipity to set up when the island was occupied by the Germans. Hence the title of this period piece movie (available on BBC iPlayer for the  next four weeks), based on a novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Despite the idyllic setting — director Mike Newell really milks Guernsey for every picturesque drop — the visitor, Lily James (Juliet Ashton), soon discovers there are dark secrets just below the surface harking back to the War. Through flashbacks these are gradually revealed and some of the extremely nasty side of the occupation is made evident, though without any graphic detail. For me the film would have been far more effective if the privations and brutality of that period had been made more explicit in stark counterpoint to the seemingly charmed lifestyle of the island. But the prevailing mood is instead one of chocolate box charm and a romantic narrative whose dénouement will not come as a surprise. Thus an opportunity to make a truly great piece of cinema was missed. Nonetheless, much of  it is beautiful and enjoyable, despite a sometimes irritatingly twinkly soundtrack, and there are some fine performances, notably from minor characters such as the post office manager (Tom Courtenay) and the book club’s hostess (Penelope Wilton).

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