The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society  is a historical drama and romance based on the novel of the same name by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, follows the separate stories of two women who have never met, but who are connected through an eccentric book club. Juliet Ashton (Lily James), a writer who has only ever had success using a male pseudonym, discovers the unlikely tale of Guernsey's book club by chance when she receives a letter from pig farmer, Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman). Enamored with the tale of a society formed during the Nazi occupation of Guernsey, Juliet travels there to meet the club in the hopes of writing a piece about them. But, she soon discovers there is far more to their tale than the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will admit to, and all this mystery is tied to their missing founding member, Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay).
Two Tales: While The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society's narrative focuses on the journey of a large array of characters, it is Juliet Ashton and Elizabeth McKenna who are the stars of the show. We begin with Juliet in London, in the aftermath of World War II. She's a reasonably successful writer, with a loving fiancé and a seemingly bright future ahead of her, but she's not entirely happy with the direction she is heading, particularly in her writing career. So, when a chance letter from Dawsey Adams introduces her to the Guernsey Society, renews her love of literature and inspires her in her writing, she decides she must meet the Society immediately. Juliet is such an important character for the audience, not just because her own goals are central to the narrative, but because our understanding of every other character is focalized through her. The audience relies on Juliet's incomplete and unreliable knowledge of the Society and each character within it to form their own views, and we only gain new knowledge as Juliet does. It is from this lack of knowledge that our second central narrative springs. Elizabeth McKenna, the founding member of the Guernsey Society, is missing, and every character except for Juliet knows what events lead up to her disappearance. Juliet must get to know the members of the Guernsey Society and unravel the mystery of Elizabeth McKenna. This mystery adds elements of darkness and suspense to the story and gives us a far deeper insight into life for the people of Guernsey during the occupation. The film does an incredible job of keeping these two stories, the dark mystery elements of Elizabeth's and the romantic and family elements of Juliet's, balanced. I would have liked to see even more from Elizabeth in the film, but overall it was paced brilliantly, tying up both sides of the narrative and allowing us to get to know each of the colorful characters of Guernsey in a satisfying way.
A Society of Eccentrics: The cast of Guernsey is a veritable who's who of British acting talent. With Lily James, Jessica Brown-Findlay and Penelope Wilton all playing central parts in the story, one might be forgiven for thinking they'd stumbled into a Downton Abbey reunion, but the cast and the eccentric characters they play, really carry the film. At its heart, the film is about family. The Guernsey Society is a family of choice, built from necessity during the War and to feel any love for this film you must love each character. From the gin-brewing Isola (Katherine Parkinson) to the inventor of the famed potato peel pie, Eben (Tom Courtenay). The film does a wonderful job of making its audience want to be a part of this family, painting a vivid, emotional picture of Juliet's own longing for family and thereby explaining her quick attachment to everyone in the society. This film is lifted by how well-written each character is, and how well each member of the cast performs. The eccentricity of the characters also adds some much-needed humor to the film as well as ensuring that the heartwarming ending has enough emotional impact.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a romance, a mystery, a historical drama and an homage to the power of literature all in one film. While it might be difficult for the film to strike a balance between all these elements in a way that satisfies every viewer, the stellar cast, and host of colorful characters will have most leaving the cinema with their hearts thoroughly warmed.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is featured on
Borrowing Tape's Best Films of 2018 list.