Film Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

‘A great mystery on an island with a well-told history, but with an insipid ending

2018 in Cinema:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Directed by: Mike Newell

Starring: Lily James, Michiel Huisman, Glen Powell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Katherine Parkinson, Matthew Goode, Tom Courtenay, Penelope Wilton

 

Between The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Darkest Hour, War & Peace and Downton Abbey, one may wonder if Lily James has a bit of a fascination with wartime England, with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society being her second outing in 1940’s England this year alone. Based on the novel of the same name, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society takes place in 1946, shortly after the ending of World War II, with Juliet Ashton (Lily James, Darkest Hour) communicating via letter to a pig-farmer, Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman), on the island of Guernsey. Dawsey mentions his book club and its formation, and Juliet, a successful writer, invites herself to Guernsey to meet them. While there, though, she learns that Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findlay), a founding member of the society, has been missing for some time and the society keep it a secret from Juliet, who is desperate to help uncover the truth.

As mentioned in my countdown of my favourite films of 2017, I love films about wartime, with Dunkirk and Wonder Woman taking the second and first spot, respectively, in that countdown, so, while the trailers for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel pie Society didn’t have me too excited to see it, I really enjoyed it. Although taking place a year after the war finished, it beautifully shows the lives of those in Guernsey who are still affected by the effects of the war. And that’s one of my favourite things about this film: the feel that it has history. From the people Juliet meets on the island to the stories told by them, Guernsey has this massive history behind it; from the hotel owner’s remarks against the members of the society, the history between Dawsey and another man, who was selling secrets to the Germans when they occupied the island, and the mysterious disappearance of Elizabeth, everything has a history and that truly helps the audience buy into the world that they’re presenting.

Elizabeth’s disappearance is, arguably, the biggest thing in this film, and, unfortunately, it has its good points and bad. On the whole it’s a well told mystery, with pieces of the puzzle slowly being revealed by different characters (I love the arc that Juliet has in finding one piece of information from one person and using that to uncover more from the next and so on and so forth), and it is quite an intriguing story. She’s ultimately presented as this hero who fought against the Germans while they inhabited the island, and while the mystery keeps us going, the desire to see a resolution is enhanced by the loveable portrayal of Elizabeth’s character. And the inclusion of Amelia’s (Penelope Wilton) tragic past, losing her daughter, Elizabeth’s best friend, and her child during childbirth, and now losing Elizabeth, and that Elizabeth’s daughter is being looked after by Dawsey, who promises her that Elizabeth shall return, it adds a huge weight to the disappearance. She’s the reason they’re all together and she’s left a massive hole by being missing and Juliet tries to solve that, and we agree with Juliet because we want to see a resolution. In that regards the mystery is really good. However, it falls flat upon its resolution. It ends quite suddenly and nothing seems to truly happen after the resolution based on everything the film has led us to believe should happen in this scenario, and it leaves the whole saga feeling quite flat.

And that feeling of flatness is repeated in the other major running storyline, which I cannot really discuss too much as it is a bit of a spoiler. There is a ‘surprise’ reveal towards the end but it also feels incredibly flat because it’s so predictable and is a story told a thousand times before (and no doubt will be told a thousand times again) and the film doesn’t seem to shy away from the fact that that is its direction. There’s quite a major moment early on and one of the characters’ reaction tells a whole story and then a reaction ten minutes or so later paints a whole picture of where the story ends, and it’s insipid in its conclusion.

Overall it’s a common theme in the film; the first two acts set up beautifully, even with the obvious second storyline it’s done so quite well for the most part (could have been less obvious, though), but the final act lets everything down with quite bland reveals. A poor film with a great ending can leave you feeling happy; a great film with a terrible ending equally has the opposite effect. I left the cinema disappointed and it wasn’t until I began thinking about everything that had happened prior to the final act that I agreed that overall the film is decent. But therein lies the problem; as a casual viewer I could have left the film feeling disappointed at its conclusion, and for a film to be like that it really takes away from the really fine acting and great storytelling at parts that it had for the first hour of the film. A great mystery on an island with a well-told history, but with an insipid ending.

 

Personal: * * *     Acting: * * * *     Writing: * * *     Presentation: * * * *

Overall Rating: * * * ½

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