In the aftermath of World War II, a charismatic and glamorous London writer, Juliet (Lily James), receives a letter from a member of a literary society based on the island of Guernsey. The writer of the letter is a farmer named Dawsey (Michiel Huisman) and he initiates the correspondence after finding a book with Juliet's name and address in it.
Juliet, intrigued by the idea of the literary society, and sensing there is quite a story behind it, writes back probing Dawsey for more information. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was borne out of necessity during Nazi-occupation of the island, Dawsey replies. Returning home one night following a clandestine dinner party, Dawsey and his friends were accosted by Nazis and asked why they were breaking curfew. Thinking quickly, the group claimed they were at a book club meeting, and the Nazis, too bewildered to challenge them, allowed them to continue on their way.
To not arouse suspicion, Dawsey and his friends soon after had to actually form the literary society. But they found that they quite liked the meetings and soon developed a love of books and reading, and the society flourished.
Ignoring the wishes of her publisher, and her American boyfriend, Juliet invites herself to Guernsey to meet Dawsey and the group. Once on the island, she seeks out the members of the literary society and attends one of the club's meetings. Juliet's intrigue grows as she delves into the lives of the society's members and begins asking questions. She learns that life under Nazi-occupation was, unsurprisingly, very difficult and necessitated lots of tough decisions.
Directed by Mike Newell, and adapted from the best-selling novel by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a charming film. The locations and period details are rendered sharply, the island of Guernsey initially painted as remote and inhospitable, but emerging into something more complex as Juliet learns more about its inhabitants.
There are some splendid performances, both from Lily James, whose Juliet is bright and ardent, and from Michiel Huisman whose Dawsey is just intriguing enough. The supporting cast is equally good, the standouts being Katherine Parkinson as the slightly loopy Isola and Tom Courteney as the island's elderly postmaster.
Along with the fine cast, the film offers a story with many layers. Juliet is the driver of this - her eagerness to not fit the mould is infectious. She could easily just continue her book tour, count her money and live her glamorous life in London. But that's never an option. And while the film gets a little light and fluffy towards the end, it is vast and beautiful escapism all the same.