A Review Of Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society: The Quick Fix For Downton Abbey Fans

guernsey literary and potato peel pie society reviewI am generally very cautious of movies adapted from novels. Often I find myself nitpicking my way through each detail and criticizing every dissimilarity; I suppose, as someone who greatly prefers reading to watching a screen, this is a habit I hold on to with a touch of pride and good, old-fashioned snobbery. And Netflix’s newest original flick Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society was no different.

I stumbled across the trailer for Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society only a few weeks ago. Eclectic title aside, the word ‘Literary’ was enough to capture my interest, as was the involvement of various Downton Abbey actors. I love period dramas, and haven’t found a good one in quite some time, so naturally I got hold of the novel and devoured it in a few short hours while on a plane. Unsurprisingly, it was wonderful. I fell in love with the mood of the story more than anything else- the warm humour and companionship that the book kept at its forefront- and hoped desperately that the adaptation would keep this intact. All things considered, I am only mildly disappointed in the movie.

The story is set shortly after the Second World War, although it is frequently interspersed with flashbacks from the Nazi occupation. Juliet Ashton is a London-based author famous for her humorous work under the pseudonym Izzy Bickerstaff, although she would much rather focus on “serious” writing under her own name; her first book, a non-fiction on the life of Anne Brontë, was a colossal failure. She starts up a correspondence with a pig farmer named Dawsey Adams who lives on the island of Guernsey, and who is part of an eccentric group called (you guessed it) the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Juliet is as much intrigued by the patchwork of characters that make it up as she is of the lengthy name. She travels to Guernsey to learn about their stories, their love of literature and their secrets from the War, and finds herself tethered to the island is ways she hadn’t imagined possible.

What I truly applaud about Mike Newell’s adaptation is its ability to retain the assuaging spirit of Shaffer’s novel. Guernsey is by no means a remarkable story, but it is a comforting and affectionate one. It’s the sort of film you would watch alone on a chilly night, huddled up in bed with your favourite cup of tea and some chocolate. Although it’s set during the War, the tragedy and horror one would expect from such a setting is shadowed by the wonderful bond between characters and the scenic location of the island. I imagine this film will go up on my list of ultimate comfort movies, right next to The Holiday and Amélie.

My greatest complaint is concerning the characters. The ones in the novel are fully fleshed out, each carrying his or her own unique personality and backstory. But the ones in the movie are mere caricatures of the original, and the filmmaker seems to have used a few quirks and minor foibles as a replacement for characterisation. Dawsey, for example, appears to be utterly featureless and unstimulating, and apart from his devilishly good looks (he’s played by Michael Huisman) it’s hard to imagine what Juliet sees in him. In the case of Juliet’s editor Sydney Stark, his homosexuality serves as nothing more than a reminder that the viewer must not mistake him for yet another love interest. While I understand that the ability to flesh out so many characters is limited in a two hour-long film, this was a bit disappointing to watch. The only person I liked better in the film was Markham Reynolds, Juliet’s dashing suitor and, for a brief period, fiancé. In the book Markham is completely despicable and one-dimensional, leaving no doubt about his eventual rejection; in the film, however, he is a tad bit nicer, and also serves a secondary purpose of helping Juliet track down the whereabouts of the long-missing Elizabeth McKenna. If I hadn’t already read the book, there would have been some genuine intrigue about whom Juliet would eventually end up with.

So, despite my inhibitions about its shortcomings compared to the novel, I did enjoy the film adaptation of Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society. It’s the sort of film I can imagine watching multiple times, not for the story but for the comforting aftertaste. And, if nothing else, it’s a quick fix for anyone desperately awaiting the Downton Abbey movie- Lily James (Lady Rose), Jessica Brown Findley (Lady Sybil), Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley) and Matthew Goode (Henry Talbot) are all part of this wonderful cast. For whatever reason and in whichever form you chose to experience this story, it’s an easy one to adore.

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