As one of countless people who read the best-seller by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows almost a decade ago, I was keen to check out the screen adaptation of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Many a book discussion group has examined and embraced this historical novel which told a compelling story of love and war through written correspondence between a memorable ensemble of characters.
Initially anticipating a conventional movie release at my local art house theater, I was pleasantly surprised when it was announced The Guernsey LAPPPS (we’ll call it for the sake of brevity) would make its US debut August 10 on Netflix. I circled the date on my calendar and prepared to experience the film from the comfort of my own couch. My popcorn, though less buttery, is substantially more affordable after all. Anyhow, I'm pleased to report I spent two contented hours watching the film this past weekend.
If you’ve not read the book, the story follows the physical and emotional journey of Juliet Ashton, a young author in London who, after losing her parents in the Blitz, has achieved significant success penning columns about the lighter side of life during World War II. Yearning to write something more serious and worthwhile, she fortuitously encounters Dawsey Adams. a farmer from Guernsey who credits the fellowship of some like-minded, book-loving friends for their ability to survive the Nazi occupation of their island. Juliet is immediately drawn to Dawsey and the other society members despite the secretive connection that exists within the group. Juliet is inspired to tell their stories and her dedication to these new friends changes her life forever.
For those who have read and loved the novel, you will note some differences between the page and screen versions. In the book, the story is told primarily through letters while, in the film, the catalyst for the story is a series of letters (dramatized in flashback) which then advances quickly to in-person interactions between the characters. The movie also omits a few of the book’s characters, usually combining the purpose or actions of two or more characters into one. I found the film to be true to the spirit of the book. Any details that may have been changed to make the transition to visual storytelling easier didn't affect my appreciation of the movie.
Whether you are new to the story or are already familiar with the plot, there are several aspects I think any viewer could find enjoyable.
First of all, there’s the beautiful setting. Stunning cliffs and beaches and a charming fishing village play a silent but integral character in the story. However, if you aspire to see these gorgeous locations in person, you’ll want to book a holiday to the southwest of England rather than the Channel Islands where Guernsey is actually located. The backdrop to this heart-warming film features Saunton Sands, the town of Bideford, the Hartland Abbey estate and Clovelly, all in Devon, plus Bristol’s historical dockside museum in Princes Wharf.
Downton Abbey fans will appreciate the mini reunion that has been quite frequently referenced in press releases related to this project. Four actors from the well-loved ITV/PBS period drama figured prominently in The Guernsey LAPPPS. Lily James, who played impetuous Crawley cousin Lady Rose MacClare, leads the cast as the earnest protagonist/writer Juliet. Matthew Goode, whose Henry Talbot won the heart of Lady Mary, portrays Juliet’s publisher and confidante, Sidney Stark. Penelope Wilton’s role as protective society member Amelia Maughery echoes her Downton character Isobel Crawely’s harrowing maternal bereavement. And finally, Jessica Brown Findlay, who broke our hearts as headstrong idealist Lady Sybil Crawley, portrays the quick-witted, principled, and ultimately tragic founder of the society, Elizabeth McKenna.
The cast members who don’t happen to have Downton Abbey credits on their CV are no slouches either. Tom Courtenay, who came to prominence for his performances in classic films such as Billy Liar, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and Doctor Zhivago, appears as the kindly postmaster and inventor of the nearly inedible potato peel pie, Eben Ramsey. Age of Adeline and Game of Thrones actor Michiel Huisman portrays the ruggedly handsome yet sensitive farmer, Dawsey Adams. My favorite character had to be quirky bootlegger and Jane Eyre enthusiast Isola Pribby, who was brought to life by the brilliant comedic actress Katherine Parkinson of Doc Martin, The IT Crowd, and Pirate Radio fame.
Last but not least, The Guernsey LAPPPS is a charming mix of friendship, female empowerment and bibliophilism.
Is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on your end of summer watch list? If you’ve already seen it, were you satisfied with how the book was adapted for the screen? Let’s discuss in the comments!