“…it’s Katherine Parkinson’s comical yet wonderfully vulnerable and bitter-sweet portrayal of the gin-distilling lonely heart, Isola Pribby, that is possibly the film’s most surprising delight.” – Wayward Wolf.
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society (and you can forget about it if you think I’m reeling that off repeatedly over the next few paragraphs! Let’s call it T-GLAPPPS from hereon in), is a film whose historic setting is the aftermath of the German occupation of the channel island of Guernsey – an island, like neighbouring Jersey, that suffered badly at the hands of the German army during the Second World War.
Incidentally, as a slight aside – the Military Museum – housed in an old German bunker on the island of Jersey – is a really excellent must-see not only for World Ward II aficionados, but for those that would benefit from gaining a more in-depth background to these troubled years of war time occupation.
But I digress…
The bizarrely named Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society was formed as something of an off-the-cuff cover story out of necessity during a routine German stop-and-search of a group of local friends who had been caught out at night after curfew. They’d been making their way home following a gathering at a friend’s house in which they’d all feasted hungrily upon roasted pork, a food source that was now strictly forbidden under the German rule.
Having come up with and duly registered their peculiarly-named society in order to fool their captors, they now had no choice but to continue with the charade, and thus, once a week, initially under the short-lived supervision of a bored German, the group would assemble to read and discuss literature with one another.
A few years on, and with Guernsey once again liberated, a letter sent by one of the society’s members, Dawsey (Michiel Huisman), to a London-based journalist and author, Juliet Ashton (Lily James), leads to a rather intimate pen-friendship developing between the two. Juliet’s interest in this remarkable society is suitably piqued and soon enough she finds herself aboard a boat en route to Guernsey, temporarily abandoning her fiancee in the process, but determined to finally write an article of true substance and worth.
But as Juliet will soon discover, this society, though amusingly-titled and formed through an act of rebellious deception, in fact hides tragic and painful secrets for its members.
Whilst using the German occupation as an historical setting and a frequent reference point, Director Mike Newell’s film is in fact much less a gritty depiction of the horrors of war, and far more a conventional love story. The age old tale of the girl who apparently had it all, yet deep down realised that what she had did not provide her with sufficient emotional fulfilment.
With this point understood and acknowledged, Newell’s film can be considered as something of a charming triumph. Certainly it’s a career best performance from Lily James, whose nuanced depiction of the enthusiastic and head-strong Juliet, is full of warmth and sparkle.
There are predictably solid performances from the likes of Tom Courtenay and Penelope Milton, but it’s Katherine Parkinson’s comical yet wonderfully vulnerable and bitter-sweet portrayal of the gin-distilling lonely heart, Isola Pribby, that is possibly the film’s most surprising delight.
Indeed, the casting is well judged throughout with an array of well-formed characters in whom one can truly emotionally invest. This is perhaps not surprising considering that T-GLAPPPS benefits from the directorial involvement of the man behind everybody’s? perennial favourite, Four Weddings and a Funeral – a film whose feel and sense of formula is fairly evident here.
It’s true that there are one or two inconsistencies here and there and elements of the narrative at times feel a little ‘token’ in nature and might have benefited from some further exploration. But these are more suggestions than faults. What is undeniable here is that this is British film making done well and crucially, done with considerable commercial appeal, and not at the expense of its artistic integrity.
T-GLAPPPS is a film that’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in. A film that knows exactly what it’s doing as it sucks you in with its considerable well engineered charm. But above all, T-GLAPPPS is a film that’s almost impossible not to like.