Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
Published April 15th 2018
An absolute joy of a movie
Every now and then we get a book or play with a really long but catchy title. One thinks of The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade by Peter Weiss, or The Man Who Held The Queen to Ransom and Sent Parliament Packing by Peter van Greenaway and, my personal favourite, And to My Nephew Albert I Leave the Island What I Won off Fatty Hagan in a Poker Game by David Forrest.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is in that style of complicated but memorable names. But that's not the most memorable thing about the movie - it is an absolute joy on every level.
Lily James is Juliet Ashton in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Photograph courtesy of StudioCanal)
The film is based, quite closely, on the 2008 bestseller of the same name by Mary Ann Shaffer. The story of the book is fascinating. Mary Ann Shaffer was an editor, librarian and bookshop worker who, at the age of 70 at the urging of her friends wrote a book - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
The publishers required extensive re-writing by which time she was very ill and the re-write was carried out by her niece, Annie Barrows, a noted children's writer and the author of the Ivy and Bean series of books. Sadly Mary never saw the book in print dying shortly before publication.
Mary Ann Shaffer (left) and Annie Barrows (Photograph courtesy of Amazon)
The book is written in the now dated epistolary style such as Jean Webster's Daddy-Long-Legs, Helene Haff's 84, Charing Cross Road and Letters of an Indian Judge to an English Gentlewoman (probably by Dorothy Black), which is also in the long name class.
I have not read the book, although I have now ordered a copy, but I have seen the movie made from it and starring Lily James, Dame Penelope Wilton and Jessica Brown Findlay (all previously seen in TV's Downton Abbey). In addition, the film has Sir Tom Courtney, Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd, Doc Martin) and Matthew Goode (The Good Wife).
The movie (and book) revolves around the German Occupation of what Churchill called 'our dear Channel Islands' during the Second World War. This event, though still within living memory, has slipped from the public consciousness, but leaving scars for the islanders, who were oppressed, had inhabitants killed, deported and resisted as best they could unsupported by anyone.
The Channel Islands were occupied from mid-1940 to mid-1945, the last winter the worst with both invader and invaded nearly starving as no supplies came from Britain, obviously, and the 1944 D Day landing cut the islands off from their German supply lines, too.
The film is described in the logline as a 'comedy'. It is not. Certainly, there are comic moments and situations, but it is essentially a story of courage, love, romance and loyalty, mixed well in with a large dollop of a love of literature and the written word.
Wonderfully well cast with deeply talented actors the plot concerns Juliet Ashton (Lily James) a writer who, in 1946 is suffering from writer's block having successfully produced a series of light, uplifting, morale-boosting columns during the war under the name of Izzy Bickerstaff.
German Occupation forces march down the High Street, Guernsey (Photograph in the public domain)
Quite by chance, she gets a letter from a Guernsey pig farmer, Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman) asking for the name of a bookseller in London, as there are now none in Guernsey.
He mentions the book club he belongs to, the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and how it came into being following a dinner of roast pork and the necessity to lie to the German invaders.
Lily James as Juliet Ashton (Photograph courtesy of StudioCanal)
This intrigues her and a correspondence follows, culminating in her visiting the island to meet the members of the GLAPPP Society. Their stories intrigue her more and she falls in love with the island and its people, unravelling the story as she goes.
Glen Powell and Lily James (Photograph courtesy of StudioCanal)
The film is gorgeously photographed, the island (and Devon, where a good deal of it was filmed) is breath-taking and the costumes impeccable and perfectly in period, the settings the most effective and accurate evocation of immediate post-war Britain since Darkest Hour (which also had Ms James in it).
The props and set dressing are magnificently nostalgic and evocative and the acting an example to all of the value of understatement and deeply moving. I defy anyone to watch the scene of the ship evacuation of the children to Britain unmoved.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a perfect film, moving, uplifting, well-written, superbly acted, filmed and dressed, and a monument to love, loyalty and literature.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society opens on the 19th April, at Luna Cinemas.