Year Released: 2019
Director: Mike Newell
Starring: Lily James. Micheil Huisman, Matthew Goode, Glen Reynolds
(Not Rated, 123 min.)
“Do you suppose it's possible for us to already belong to someone before we've met them?” –Juliet Ashton
She’s smart, beautiful, successful, and a very handsome, wealthy American is head over heels in love with her. So why is Juliet (Downton Abbey’s Lily James) in a funk?
Well, it might have something to do with the horrors of the recent war, whose ghastly images still lurk behind her ready smile and perky exterior, as we see when a beautiful new London apartment suddenly dissolves into a bombed out building from her past. That she almost dies trying to retrieve a favorite paperweight just before the flooring collapses explains a few things.
And that the person drawing her back from near death is Sidney Stark (Matthew Goode, another Downton Abbey comrade – one of four in this Netflix release) is telling, too. Because Sidney, her literary agent and friend, knows Juliet perhaps better than she does herself.
She rejects the elegant new digs and is also out of place during her night out at the Savoy with her beau Mark (Glen Reynolds). Twirling her around the dance floor and plying her with champagne only go so far.
We now know she is ready for something more substantial and it arrives by post:
London, 1946. Juliet (Lily James), a charismatic and free-spirited writer receives a letter from a member of a mysterious literary club started in Nazi-occupied Guernsey. Her curiosity piqued, Juliet decides to visit the island. There she meets the delightfully eccentric members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, including Dawsey (Michiel Huisman), the rugged and intriguing farmer who wrote her the letter. As the secrets from their wartime past unfold, Juliet's growing attachment to the island, the book club, and her affection for Dawsey will change the course of her life forever.
The island and all its characters, with the exception of her dour landlady, are enchanting. We meet Eben Ramsey (Tom Courtenay) the venerable and currently very drunk postman in the first few frames of the film, which take place in 1941. He is the most vocal of a cadre of islanders raucously returning from their clandestine dinner of roast pig. Of course, the Nazi occupiers have confiscated all animals for their own use, leaving the islanders to raise potatoes, so the dinner itself, not to mention the possession of the pig, is an act of rebellion, as is their all being out after curfew. Ramsey charms us at once, first in his drunken speech about freedom to the Nazis that interdict them, and then by vomiting on their polished shoes. That, and the excuse about a meeting of “The Geurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Society,” that the group comes up with ad hoc, give them an overnight reprieve. (No one really wants to ride in close quarters with a drunk who has just regurgitated and may threaten to do so again, even a Nazi.)
Another Downton Abbey veteran, Penelope Wilton playing Amelia Maugery, who hosts the club, is not so charming. In fact, she clearly resents Juliet’s presence, and it will take the whole of film for us to find out why. But she is such a good actress that we are transfixed by her complex character and the range of emotions that drift over her mobile features.
Katherine Parkinson is clearly having fun playing Isola Pribby, the resident herbalist, earth mother, and sometime gin distiller. Her charm and openness contrast with Amelia’s cool detachment and inner anguish, bringing out some of the film’s lighter moments.
Dutch actor Micheil Huisman, the original letter writer and resident “pig farmer” as Juliet’s beau and now fiancé calls him, is absolutely perfect. He generates an electric chemistry with Juliet from the moment they accidentally meet, with an emphasis on accidentally, since Juliet is almost hit by falling roof tiles from the hotel he is at the moment repairing.
So when Juliet takes off her engagement ring after her prim landlady looks sternly at the lavish display of wealth, the audience knows that modesty is not the only reason Juliet puts it away in her purse.
Yet among these romantic undercurrents a dark past lurks on the beautiful island every bit as much as remnants of bombed out London do in Juliet’s unconscious. Little by little the idyllic island reveals its brutal past and another love story that does not end well.
A warm and wonderful film. One certainly to be enjoyed by the whole family, especially bibliophiles of all ages.
Not to miss for discriminating viewers. Download it now on Netflix.
Guernsey, one of Britain’s Channel Islands, is actually closer to France than England. As such it was strategic to the Germans in World War II, and thus became the only British soil ever occupied by Nazis.
The story of that occupation, its hardships and the small, secret joys that kept these oppressed people going during those harsh times is captured by in a letter from Dawsey Adams, the island pig farmer.
“The Germans took all our animals away. It was against the law to keep even one.” (They were ordered to simply grow potatoes instead.) “A proper meal was only had in memory, like the post, which they had suspended, the radio, which they had taken, and the telegraph cables which they had cut.”
But one resolute islander keeps a secret pig, and she and her neighbors conspire to roast it, washing it down with some home brewed gin, and a potato peel pie brought in by the local postmaster.
Of course, one of the running jokes in the film is while the roast pig is really delicious, the homemade gin as potent as it is pleasing, the potato peel pie is not as bad as it sounds. It is far worse.
But thanks to Downton Abbey Cooks.com, we have rendered that culinary cull leader of the pack. Our Potato Peel Pie is quite delicious, as its creator explains:
Potato peel pie was just one creation made out of necessity when food was rationed during World War II. Guernsey, was occupied by the Germans so food was even more scarce. Most farm animals were confiscated from the farmer,so they relied on the crops they grew, like potatoes.
The original dish was not particularly pleasing to the palate, so I have made some adjustments, but still using ingredients that the fortunate could get their hands on. The crust and topping is quite crunchy which is a nice contrast to the soft potato filling.
Enjoy, and try it with some roast pig, too. I have been bold enough to borrow a great recipe from some other islanders who unfortunately still long for freedom. I guarantee you will love this Cuban Style Roast Sucking Pig to go along with the Potato Peel Pie.
Potato Peel Pie
For the Crust
1 large onion grated
1 large potato (thin-skinned) potato grated
1 medium beet grated
1 clove garlic minced
2 large egg whites
3 tbsp. unbleached all purpose flour
For the filling
6 medium potatoes thin skinned
1 clove garlic
1 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
2 strips bacon diced and cooked
2 tbsp. chives finely chopped
1/4 cup cheese shredded
Prepare the Crust
Grease a pie plate with bacon grease hidden away in your pantry.
Preheat your oven to 350 F.
Mix the ingredients for the crust in a large bowl and then spoon into the prepared pie plate, Reserve 1/2 a cup for the finish. Press against the bottom and sides so you have an even crust.
Bake in the oven for one hour, or until the crust is firm and crispy. Let cool.
Make the Filling
Scrub the potatoes well. Cut into 3 inch cubes with the peel on, add water to cover, Add the garlic clove to the water and set on medium heat. Cook until fork tender.
Drain the water. Heat the milk and add to the hot potatoes. Mash well, Stir in cream, bacon and chives.
Spoon the filling into the prepared crust. Use the remaining crust ingredients to make a lattice design and fill with the gaps with the cheese.
Bake in the 350 F oven for 30 minutes
Cool slightly and cut into slices and serve.