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Director Newell channels Four Weddings in old-fashioned romance

Lily James stars as a London-based writer who embarks on a visit to meet the wonderfully named Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

20 April, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

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

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY
Directed by Mike Newell
Certificate PG
☆☆☆☆

THE stories of those who lived in Guernsey during the German ­Occupation are rich and plentiful. From the fishermen who escaped on tiny boats, the children evacuated for five long years away from their families, the small acts of defiance, such as decorating the statue of Prince Albert on the docks with a Union Jack and many islanders’ outright refusal to speak to the occupying forces, are fascinating.

Tragically, there were people deported from Guernsey who died in the Holocaust, and there were slave labourers brought to the island to build a network of coastal defences, which still stand on Guernsey’s gorgeous shoreline as sad reminders of a terrible time.

But while the islanders have many tales to share, this film adaptation of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’ book is pure fiction – and joins a small but wonderful body of Guernsey-based stories such as The Toilers of the Sea and The Book of Ebenezer Le Page.

Juliet Ashton (Lily James) is a successful writer in London when she receives a letter from Channel Islander Dawsey Adams (Michael Huisman).

He tells her how he bought a book with her name in – The Essential Charles Lamb – and he and his friends set up a book club to help get through the war years.

Juliet embarks on a visit to meet the wonderfully named Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and while she is there hears of how one of their number was taken to Germany by the Nazis and has not been seen since.

This, and the blossoming relationship between Dawsey and Juliet, are the main plot drivers of Mike Newell’s film.

There are some complications thrown in by Juliet’s swanky American serviceman beau and islanders recovering from their ordeal under the Nazi yoke.

Now, a disclaimer: as a former resident of the Channel island – and I wrote the stories of those who were evacuated and those who stayed during the Occupation to mark its 60th anniversary – I felt very, very attached to the fantastic novel this film is based on.

Written as a series of letters, it has delightful characterisations and plot asides which are hard to translate to screen.

But Newell’s film captures the essence of this love story.

This is an old-fashioned romance, with leads who hit every branch of the handsome/beautiful tree when they fell from its canopy, and presents a chocolate box image of both London and Guernsey.

It is Mike Newell in Four Weddings territory, rather than Donnie Brasco.

Gentle, enchanting, and simple – a breezy adaptation of a lovely novel.

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