The Netflix original film, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” directed by Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and based on the 2008 novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, follows Juliet Ashton (Lily James), a writer who discovers an amazing story about the power of a good book but the even more powerful force of human connection in times of trouble.
During World War II, Juliet writes under the pen name of Izzy Biggerstaff and provides funny stories to lift people’s spirits, especially after the bombings of London. When the war is over, Sidney (Matthew Goode), her publisher, encourages Juliet to find a story that can be written under her own name.
When she receives a letter from a total stranger, Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman), asking about a book he found with her name and address in it, she’s intrigued. He says he’s part of a book club on an island in the English Channel called Guernsey. As they begin to correspond, Dawsey reveals how the club was formed and how much it helped the group cope with the German occupation of Guernsey. Juliet wonders if their story would be a great subject for her next book.
She invites herself to the book club and shows up on the island unannounced. As she meets the members of the club, they are not all happy to see her, especially Amelia (Penelope Wilton), who emphatically tells Juliet that she will not allow her to publish their story. Surprised at Amelia’s vehemence, Juliet plans to leave but Isola (Katherine Parkinson), another member of the club, begins to tell her about Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findlay), who, Amelia tells her is, “off island” at the moment.
Elizabeth’s story unfolds little by little and Juliet gets drawn into the lives and sufferings that the Guernsey residents experienced during the war. She’s especially drawn to Dawsey, who is raising Kit (Florence Keen), Elizabeth’s daughter, with the help of the other society members.
Lily James leads the cast as Juliet but all the actors, especially Downton Abbey alums, Penelope Wilton and Jessica Brown Findlay, provide such genuine performances that the audience members can really connect with their characters, feel their pain and resolve to make the most of a horrible situation by caring for those who surround them.
I was drawn to this film as soon as I saw its trailer on Netflix. I grew up as a voracious reader and have personally experienced the influence a good book can have in a person’s life. That’s why I entered the Daughters of St. Paul, a religious community dedicated to evangelization through the media, including books and other media. Even as powerful as books can be, there is something more powerful: human connection.
For people like the characters in “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” a book can be the doorway to magical lands and a way to forget the sufferings they experience. More important, though, is the way a book can bring people together. Dawsey Adams said it well when he wrote to Juliet Ashton. He said that during the occupation, “we were all hungry but it was Elizabeth who realized our true starvation for connection, for the company of other people, for fellowship.”
That starvation for connection is still present in our day. Ironic, isn’t it, when our devices supposedly keep us better connected than ever. Perhaps there are times in our lives when we are hungry and starving for the company of other people, for fellowship. Maybe watching “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie” together with some friends or loved ones would be just the ticket. You just might want to keep potato peel pie off the menu.