Any poster that has headshots of the cast lined up along it raises concerns straight away. That style of marketing is directed at your casual cinema viewer who is just after something familiar and chooses a film based on there being someone in it they recognise from something else they enjoyed. ‘Oh look dear, it’s got that nice lady we like in it. You know, from Downton Abbey.’
It sounds like I’m being the worse kind of film snob (quite probably because I am being the worse kind of film snob) but this harks back to the Hollywood studio system and a less discerning time when the star of the movie was more important than the story and the direction. Sure there were plenty of classics produced in that period but there was more dross. Take Cary Grant for example; he made seventy five films and I bet you can’t name more than ten of them. I’m sorry if this comes across as unbearably haughty (no doubt because it is unbearably haughty) but I believe a film should be judged on originality and artistry not a few recognisable faces.
Still, if you’ve got a product you need to sell it and those people that do go along to see The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society because they used to enjoy Downton won’t be disappointed. With Lily James, Matthew Goode, Penelope Wilton and Jessica Brown Findlay there are actually four actors from that show in this film and they all give strong performances in another prim post war period drama driven by familial duty and the rules of society.
Of course this film is also aiming to appeal to the many many people who read the book it is based on and while I am not among their number I suspect that here it might disappoint. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of those adaptations that just doesn’t work sufficiently well on the screen to justify its existence. As I say, I’m not in a position to make the comparison but watching it I felt like nothing was really explored in enough depth and I strongly suspect its themes of friendship and connection are done greater justice on the page. There’s a nice story here but it feels lighter than an account of military occupation, oppression, prejudice and injustice ought to. Certainly if you compare it to last year’s Their Finest, which on paper is actually more frivolous, it doesn’t have anywhere near the same weight or power.
The Ripley Factor:
Another way in which The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society fails to measure up to the adaptation of Their Finest is in its efforts to stand as a parable of early feminism. Lily James, like Gemma Arterton in that film, is a 1940s writer but there is very little of made of her ability to succeed in a male dominated world. She does publish under a gender neutral pen name but this is glossed over and the two points where the film strives to make a feminist point, one in relation to Charlotte Brontë, and one in the rushed denouement, feel forced and tagged on.