Arriving on screens nearly a decade after its publication, this wilted adaptation of Mary Ann Shaffer’s (and, subsequently, Anne Barrows’) post-war tale arrives with the pomp and circumstance you’d expect of a film sporting a much heftier mindset. Alas, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (henceforth, simply referred to as Guernsey) adopts no such ideals, happy to hang its hat firmly atop the coat peg reserved for the straight and unchallenging period piece dramas of more typically televisual terrain. Far from an enjoyable experience, certainly, Guernsey offers up a bevy of likeable characters and a tale you can see would have made for populist fare on bookstands. As far as making much of a name for itself in cinema, however, Guernsey’s… well, just too damn forgettable.
Rising star Lily James takes centre stage as Juliet Ashton, an unfulfilled young writer who begins a correspondence with a Guernsey native, only to find herself drawn to learning more of he and his friends; the eponymous group formed as subterfuge for the benefit of the island’s former Nazi occupiers. Visiting Guernsey for herself, she soon discovers that the connection between her and her new correspondent (The Age of Adaline’s Michiel Huisman) is primed to blossom into something greater, and that her desire to write the story of the Society’s founding is only the precursor to another more tragic story with the potential to affect her life forever.
With veteran director Mike Newell at the helm, there’s an air of deft ease throughout Guernsey that feels at once both tonally comforting and somehow simultaneously disappointing in how rather flatlined it all sits. Sketched for the screen as sitting halfway between a smouldering romance and a period piece journalism tale, it’s intriguing that Newell hits his highest notes with the former over the far more tired latter – with the chemistry between James and Huisman more than up to selling their burgeoning dynamic (something of a joy to watch unfurl) but never quite suited to what should arguably be the film’s more intrinsically engaging element – it’s actual plot.
There’s welcome levity provided, thankfully, by way of a highly engaging and rather well-utilised supporting cast, including Penelope Wilton, Tom Courtenay, Katherine Parkinson, and the always welcome Glen Powell (who continues to exercise the endearing presence of a man waiting for that NASA biopic he was born to headline). On the merits of its screenplay, though, Guernsey doesn’t quite cut the mustard it should, as if less emotional investment by writers Don Roos and Tom Bezucha on the investigative aspect of their story were wholeheartedly to blame. Whether that has in fact transpired to be the cause or not, the result remains the same, and, whilst the older crowd may well find more than enough to fall in love with here (if nothing else, it’s certainly light years better than last year’s nauseatingly drippy Another Mother’s Son), this pie’s possibly spent too long in the oven to keep its intended flavour.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, April 20th; rated 12A. Check out the trailer below.