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'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society' is an Endearing Drama During Wartime
August 10, 2018  | By David Hinckley

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is the sort of production one used to see in movie theaters.

Now one sees it on television, at least in America. More precisely, one can see The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society starting Friday on Netflix.

If you miss the kind of stories you used to see in movie theaters before they were taken over by superheroes and special effects, you’ll like it.

TGLAPPPS, whose initials are as awkward as its full title, might be called a period mystery romance. It’s set in 1946 Britain with a story rooted in the terrible war years, and like so many British productions, even the bleak scenes are beautiful to watch.

Lily James (top) stars as Juliet Ashton, a writer searching for something both in her work and her life that stirs her inner passions. Among other things, she still hasn’t fully recovered from the death of her parents during the war. Her best friend seems to be her agent, Sidney Stark (Matthew Goode, above, with James), who happily is a good guy.  

Early in the story, Juliet becomes engaged to Mark Reynolds (Glen Powell), a rich, handsome American who is crazy about her. Whether he stirs the passions she seeks, we don’t know.

Then Juliet gets a letter from one Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman, top), who found her name and address on an old book leaf. He’s a pig farmer on the isolated isle of Guernsey, and he wants a book he can’t seem to find there. Since she lives in London, with presumably a better selection of bookstores, could she help him out?  

He also reveals that he’s a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a name Juliet finds fascinating enough to inquire about its origin.  

Eventually, Juliet books a ferry to Guernsey where she hopes to turn the backstory of TGLAPPPS into a feature article for the London Times.

The material is there. The Society began as a way to fool German troops who occupied Guernsey during the war, and it became a fulcrum for a whole series of dramas involving its members.

Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay), the group’s catalyst, also became its resident firebrand, resisting the occupiers in dangerous ways at the same time she looked for their humanity.

Her mother Amelia (Penelope Wilton), who lost her husband in World War I, wonderfully captures the way in which the survivors of war’s cruel indifference must put one foot in front of the other and make it through each day.

The Society is rounded out by Isola (Katherine Parkinson), a free spirit who loves Wuthering Heights and homemade gin, and Eben Ramsey (Tom Courtenay), the crusty old postmaster who baked the first actual potato peel pie.

There are also children who have lost family members they barely had time to know.

Yet as tragic as war stories always are, TGLAPPPS finds hope in the worst of times and strength in surviving them. Human camaraderie, it suggests, has great power.  

It’s not a perfect story. A central plot twist involving Elizabeth may stop some viewers, and the ending won’t strike most of us as any big surprise.

No matter. It ends where most viewers will want it to end, which means the pleasure lies in the details and the pathways by which we get there.

When we like the characters and are intrigued by the story, that’s enough. Not enough for Hollywood to make a movie out of it anymore, but enough, so we’re grateful Netflix puts it into the mix.

As a footnote, the presence of Goode, James, Findlay, and Wilton gives the whole show a subtle, pleasant Downton Abbey aroma.

It’s the movies’ loss.

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