When I find the time outside of writing and reading I enjoy watching films and television – like most other humans. If I get lucky I am able to find sweet stories told through film dealing with a literary plot line. I saw the trailer for this film about a month ago and I have been eagerly waiting until it was available on Netflix. I watched it the other night and I wasn’t disappointed.
It is an incredibly lovely story dealing with books, chance encounters, book clubs, and WWII. Needless to say this hit a lot of my sweet spots. The aesthetic of anything in the 1940s era I simply adore. The clothes, the customs, the mannerisms, I find it all fascinating. Additionally, I love stories in this time period that deal with strong women as this was one of the first times in history that women were beginning to make their place in the world in large numbers due to the men lost at war.
Like many films that I end up loving, this is based on a book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I would say that I am disappointed that I discovered this information too late and that now my reading experience will be forever tainted with the fact that a movie exists. However, like I mentioned this isn’t the first time this has happened to me and I doubt it will be the last and I have survived so far.
I would of course prefer to read the book prior to any movie or television show being released for mass consumption, but as more and more books are adapted into new media I find it increasingly difficult to stay ahead of the curve. Now I enjoy it when a movie or television show introduces me to a book. Another way I see it is, I find in most cases the book is better than the movie, but the annoyance I feel at the movie dwindles if I happen to read the book after the fact. You see, I find myself less disappointed in the movie when I don’t have the book as a reference screaming in the back of my head as I view it. I’m glad this was the case for The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society.
We meet out main character in Juliet [Lily James], a young writer in 1946 England. We get an idea that she is a moderately successful author, but like so many others in this era, is plagued by the lingering effects of the War. There is one flashback from her past during the War that involves her home being destroyed and an implication that her parents were killed as well. She and her best friend and also publishing agent Sidney [Matthew Goode] seem to then build a life where they look out for one another. This isn’t really detailed in the movie, but knowing this is adapted from a book, one can read between the lines.
Sidney is eager for Juliet to move on and start a fresh life as a successful author, but Juliet feels like she wants to find more purpose in her writing. At this point they throw in a young American soldier who is courting Juliet and seems to be a bit too intense, like anything American. As Juliet considers her options a letter arrives from a man on the Channel Island of Guernsey. The letter states that he purchased a used book some years ago that had her name and address in the flyleaf and since she is a person who likes books, but not just any books, books that he likes as well, that perhaps she could help him by finding another book.
Juliet takes this in stride and almost wanting to seek out an adventure where one may not exist, she sends a book to the man and begins a correspondence with him. This is where he tells her about his book club, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie society. That it was this small group of people reading and discussing books that got them through the German occupation of Guernsey.
Now, I’m just going to stop here and say that I am extremely disappointed that I was never taught this in school. Me and my classmates were basically told that Britain was never occupied during WWII, but this is apparently not so as the Island of Guernsey was very much occupied and left to fend for themselves. They were occupied from June 1940 through May 1945. That is five years of living and surviving with the enemy. To not have your country come to your aid because they can’t; it’s hard to even imagine.
Juliet quickly decides to go to the Island of Guernsey to meet the man she has corresponded with for what appears to be two letters and his society. At this point I was all revved up for a love story because we got Juliet and Dawsey [Michiel Huisman] who would make the most adorable couple, plus you’re already rooting for them because of the cute pen pal shenanigans going on. But of course it can’t be that easy, so we still have the annoying American Mark [Glen Powell], who of course pops the question mere seconds before Juliet boards the boat to Guernsey. They way it was played I almost felt like he only did it because she was leaving. How long would he have gone on had she stayed in his sights the entire time I wonder?
The Island of Guernsey is everything she seems to be wishing for. It’s quaint, quite, and hiding a story that she is dying to uncover and the locals are semi-desperate to keep to themselves. I get the inclination that the book would play out more of the feelings associated with the events that occur, but the movie unfortunately can only go so far beneath the surface. Juliet makes life long friends of the Society and promises not to write their story despite the fact that she is heavily researching everything about it behind their backs. She helps them the best she can, but ultimately turns up answers that are hard to hear just in time for her jealous fiance to turn up and demand she return to London with him.
I am normally not a fan of love triangles, but when it is done effectively it can be a thing of beauty. It’s clear that Juliet doesn’t want to marry Mark anymore and would rather return to Guernsey and so, like an adult, she calls off the engagement. Mark throws a bit of a temper tantrum in a restaurant, but I get it, he’s upset. He still manages to return to her and say goodbye, but also take the bottle of expensive champagne he bought. Stay classy Mark.
Juliet finds it hard to keep her promise and ends up writing the story of the Society anyway, but promises them that they are in control of what happens to the manuscript. At this point we are coming to a quick end and we get the very short courtship of Juliet and Dawsey when he comes to London to find her as she is boarding a ship to get to him. They find each other and before you can pretend to force their faces together to kiss (am I the only one that does that?), Juliet proposes.
In the past this whole thing may have bothered me, not because the girl proposed, but just because I have never seen it done where it’s not cheesy. Besides it usually ends up where the guy ultimately proposes anyway, but this was pretty cut and dry. She asks him and he gleefully says yes. It was pretty fantastic. We then get a flyover shot of Juliet living with her new family on the Island of Guernsey and that’s the end.
I do plan on reading this book. I can tell that there are many tiny details that were missed and I like filling in those gaps if I can. I think it will be similar to the book Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, which I did enjoy to a certain degree. Although from what I understand the book is written completely in correspondence between the characters, so I think a lot of interactions from movie to book will in fact be different. I also may get a longer period of time with them simply writing each other instead of Juliet running off to meet a stranger after only two letters, but I get that movies have to move at a relatively fast pace, so I won’t linger on that bit.
My final words would be, if you have Netflix and enjoy literary love stories, pick a day to drink some tea and watch this. It’ll be well worth it. Also, if you like Downton Abbey I’d say you have a 95% shot of liking this movie too.
Book Review: Outlander (Outlander #1) by Diana Gabaldon