I still haven’t made my mind up on Heritage films. One the one hand, they can feel like these lavish escapist fantasies or explore societies gone by that can inform our current experiences. On the other hand, they can sometimes feel dull and irrelevant, and also often promote conservative, revisionist ideas I don’t personally agree with. For me, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (bloody hell) fell a little into both camps, but despite this I found myself fairly surprised and moved by it.
The strongest aspect of the film is the colourful cast of characters on Guernsey, who are mostly upbeat yet haunted in varying and complex ways from the Nazi occupation several years prior. The casting of various actors from well known U.K. TV shows (Katherine Parkinson from The I.T. Crowd and Penelope Wilton from Doctor Who) also endeared the characters somewhat more to me, perhaps unfairly. However, I have only ever seen Lily James in the vastly different Baby Driver in a more minor role, and she carried the majority of the film brilliantly, coming across simultaneously as naive but emotionally mature and believable.
Whilst the cinematography was serviceable and did a decent job of highlighting various symbols in the mise-en-scene, and the score felt similarly functional, it was the costuming and set design that truly established the aesthetic luxury of the film. From the glamorous parties in London to the ramshackle cottages of Guernsey, this level of visual detail helped to elevate the film and contribute to the largely escapist feel. However, the casting of comedy actors like Parkinson didn’t help with some of the tonal issues I had with the film. Whilst the aesthetic was symbolic and romantic, some of the line delivery from the supporting cast felt more comedic, and the overall plot may have benefitted from a more gritty tone. As well as this, although I agreed with the overall message of literature being necessary for emotional pathos and maturity, I found some of the politics a little questionable, with the film almost treating Nazis as simply the German side of the war as with WWI.
Regardless of these criticisms though, I found myself immersed in the film more so than any other recently, and whilst I appreciate the Brechtian approach of films like Isle of Dogs and Ghost Stories, I do appreciate the value of emotional escapism as advocated for in the plot. Even with Avengers: Infinity War audibly raging on in the adjacent screen, I still couldn’t help feeling drawn into the Literary and Potato Peel Pie society and their trials and tribulations. In fact, the queues of people outside for Infinity War alongside the noise encouraged me to be grateful for smaller scale films like this, and the range of stories that they allow for rather than what is simply most marketable. Not because I dislike Infinity War (which I’ve given a higher rating overall), but because I would be sad to see the film industry simply become an endless stream of similar blockbusters.
On the whole, I recommend this film if you’re a fan of Heritage films, Romance, or of enjoying a couple of hours away from the troubles the world is currently facing. In a word, this film is Nice.