Tue, 08 May 2018
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (12A)
Running time 2hr 4mins
CHRISTOPHER Nolan’s Dunkirk exempted, there’s been a marked shift in British war cinema to the home front, a boon to costume departments from Newcastle to Neath.
While this new direction might otherwise invite smart writing and insightful drama, with women and civvies taking centre stage for practically the first time, it’s also a potential vehicle for ITV-style tawdriness, as this sumptuously crummy paperback adaptation does much to demonstrate.
On the one hand, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (breathe) touches briefly upon the darker implications of its premise, dealing as it does with a poorly-appreciated aspect of the national wartime story (the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands, a grim and fascinating affair) – ‘touches’ being the keyword, for it’s leagues more interested in the same romp-in-the-hay, who’s-bonking-who fare ITV execs are busy flogging to grannies nowadays.
Londoner Juliet (Lily James) has it all – the ball-going lifestyle, the (admittedly flagging) literary career, the dashing Yank fiancé (“oversexed, overpaid and over here”) – yet, nursing a (rather underdeveloped) trauma in her heart, she yearns, like every good artist of a certain age and inexperience, to ‘see whatever common people see’, to track down a human interest scoop that will lend her life new purpose and meaning (and earn her lavish royalties in the process).
That scoop comes in the form of the titular society, which sounds like a botched effort by a middle-aged screenwriter to evince period whimsy with the aid of pseudo-ironic protraction (cough), but which is, in fact, a front utilised during the war by a circle of Guernsey residents resisting the German invader. Juliet travels to the island, where she slowly unveils a web of secrets and betrayals, all the while courting Michiel Huisman’s implausibly gorgeous farmer.
James is charming, but as for everything else going on around her? The Guernsey Potato Peel and Literary Pie Society (ja, two of us can play this game) is unfailingly polite. Like, disgustingly polite. Once the film ditches London, where Juliet is held in disdain by a highbrow (and implicitly sexist) publishing establishment, it morphs into something starkly different – while dialling down the pomp and fashion A BIT, the exchanges between our heroine and Guernsey’s awkward squad are a stilted mess, replete with hammy acting and swoony will-they-or-won’t-they garbage.
In their robotic, hyper-friendly execution, they reminded this critic of the scenes of domestic catastrophe from Jordan Peel’s Get Out, albeit totally without the parodical intent. Indeed, for all its breathtaking gullibility, this could’ve made for a worthy, Stella Gibbons-esque spoof of the British period drama, were it not for the endless turns into melodrama and private torment (there are some dismal revelations along the way, though all are shamelessly cushioned in heaps of tweed). Tripe of the blithest order, fit only for impressionable Americans and the pathologically naïve.