See it and weep: A beautiful romance set in the British Channel Islands of WWII.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Director: Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral)
Screenplay: Kevin Hood, Dan Roos (Happy Endings), et al., based on novel by Mary Ann Shafer and Annie Barrows
Cast: Lily James (Darkest Hour) Tom Courtenay (Summerland)
Runtime: 2h 4m
By: John DeSando
"Do you suppose it's possible for us to already belong to someone before we've met them?” Juliet Ashton (Lily James)
The Guernsey Literary Society and Potato Peel Pie Society will make you long for a permanent return of the old-fashioned, tear-jerking, gorgeously photographed war-drama romance. Together with the similar Summerland in recent Netflix release, Guernsey displays the Brits’ gift for crafting melodrama and morality in the spirit of the rambling novels of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and a host of 19th century writers without peer.
To facilitate joyful tears, director Mike Newell, who made his name with Four Weddings and a Funeral, casts the incomparable Lily James as writer Juliet Ashton in post-war London; her success at crafting romantic tales and biographies (Ann Bronte, no less) brings her to Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands occupied in WWII by Nazis because, although a self-governing dependency of the British crown, it is closer to Europe than England. She is open to the society’s tale of survival under Germany’s thumb and to the thrill of writing Guernsey’s tale of liberation.
One tension comes from her connection with three men, each love completely different, bringing her to fulfillment in sometimes heartbreaking ways. The story’s glory is the depth of her feeling and the challenges to express her love in ways that do not hurt but edify. Add to that a detective story that subtly weaves a motif of gender equality.
Conflicts arise, and not just with the Nazis, although the imprisonment of a whole population by evil occupiers begs a comparison with our global pandemic, whose ruthless appropriation of our freedom promises to occupy longer than Nazis ever could. However, a writer and soul like Juliet inevitably can free a population and herself.
Filmed on the coasts of Guernsey, Cornwall, and Devon, Guernsey Literary has all a lover of the romantic story and smashing cinematography could want. To call it overly-romantic is to identify its strength—in a cynical world such as ours, a lyrical lift is welcome, and done as well as this, it is to welcome just another example of high art.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com