Lily James and the rest of the cast of Downton Abbey star in this sweet wartime drama-romance about a book club keeping more than one secret up their sleeve.

Based on the 2008 novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, the story follows Juliet Ashton (Lily James), a young writer who gets caught up in the lives of the eccentric members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society when she receives a letter from one of its members, Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman). Arriving uninvited to the island following the end of the Second World War, she is determined to discover why the group don’t want their story told in the Times. Formed when the Channel Islands fell under German control as part of Nazi forces’ occupation efforts between 1940 and 1945, the Society came about as a rouse to avoid the wrath of German officers when a group of locals were discovered hosting a secret roast dinner. 

It’s almost as if nobody else was available, either that or work’s been hard to come by since the end of Downton Abbey. The film stars no less than four stars of the period drama in lead roles, including James, Matthew Goode, Jessica Brown Findlay and Penelope Wilton. Goode is a particular gem to watch as Sidney, Ashton’s chipper, London-based publisher who puts up with her continuous requests to delay her impending book tour to find out the truth about why Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay), the founder of the group, is no longer around to look after her daughter.

Lily James the guernsey literary and potato peel pie society

Lily James as Juliet Ashton, with the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’s Dawsey Adams, played by Michiel Huisman. Photo: Studiocanal/Blueprint Pictures, Mazur/Kaplan Company.

A strange presence in the film is Mark Reynolds (Glen Powell), Ashton’s American fiancee. Although wrapped up in a charmingly comedic bow tie, Reynold’s stereotypical Yank accent and towering demeanour, kitted out to the nines in suits that would look more at home on a shady FBI agent than a soldier, render him a jarring character, out of place with the rest of the narrative. Do they really send American war planes to pick up journalists from Guernsey? Instantly dislikable, it’s unlikely anyone will be surprised by the ending of the film, or particularly sorry to see him go.

He is at odds with the other members of the society, including the curious and eccentric gin-brewer, Isola Pribby (Katherine Parkinson), the dour Amelia Maugery (Penelope Wilton), and doddering grandfather, Eben Ramsey (Tom Courtenay). Together, they form quite the selection of personalities as they get together to read, drink copious amounts of gin and munch on potatoes on a Friday night.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a sweet wartime drama. It teeters on the brink of being rather too sickly towards the end, and indeed the narrative takes a turn for the melodramatic in the final few moments of the script. Despite that, the plot unfolds through a series of flashbacks, drip feeding the pieces of the final puzzle in charming fashion. For a war film, it’s remarkably easy to watch. Removed from the hustle and bustle of wartime London, it has something more of a Midsomer Murders village feel about it, and that’s probably what makes it so likeable.

★★★☆☆

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is released on 20th April.