5 September 2018



There's an interesting but sad story behind the writing of the charming book on which this wartime film is based. The American author who penned it, Mary Ann Shaffer, fell ill before she could complete the book so she asked her niece Annie Barrows, a writer also, to help her to finish it.

Mary Ann Shaffer passed away in 2008, but not before finding out that this, her only novel, was to be published in thirteen countries. Publishers loved this book. There was pretty much no way that it wouldn't get published, from the looks of it.

Here's what happens in the film, which sadly Mary Ann Shaffer would never see but I think she'd like it. It's a little bit different to her book, which I'm mid-way through reading at the moment, but not in a way that would alter the basic storyline appreciably or anything.

It's London in 1946, a London that's still recovering from the worst war in the history of the world. The book publishing business seems to be still thriving, however, as people desperately seek a bit of escapism in the aftermath of such a long and dreary war with so many privations and restrictions on things.

Author Juliet Ashton became a national heroine during the war with her regular newspaper column entitled 'IZZY BICKERSTAFF GOES TO WAR,' which her publishers have now turned into a successful best-selling book.

Her publisher Sidney Stark naturally wants her to do a book tour and book signings and book readings and all things relating to the tedious business of promoting and selling a bloody book, which normally Juliet would be well up for but these days she's somewhat distracted. 

Not so much by her dashing fiancé, American millionaire Markham Reynolds, who keeps chucking the entire contents of a florist's shop at her, but by some letters she's been receiving from the people of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands between the French and English coasts.

A shared interest in the writings of essayist and poet Charles Lamb has caused Juliet and a pig-farmer called Dawsey Adams from the island of Guernsey to somehow find each other. He's a member of the titular GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, the name and concept of which enchants Juliet to the point where she wants to find out everything she can about the Society and its circle of eccentric members.

The Society was formed during the Occupation of Guernsey by- guess who?!- the Germans in World War Two. What did the Germans want with the tiny island of Guernsey, you might ask? Well, it was kind of a two-fingers-up-to-England type of thing. It made the Nazis feel good that they'd manage to capture a little bit of England, even if they could never quite manage to enslave good old Blighty herself in the same way.

They invaded Guernsey early on in the war, when things were still going their way and they thought they were the kings of the whole world. They pretty much made the lives of the inhabitants a misery, from what we hear in the film and read in the book, with their curfews, their confiscation of all the good food (including the pigs!) on the island for themselves and their banning of all gatherings of people on the island except legitimate ones, say, if you had a bird-watching society or something. Even then, if you didn't register it on the Nazi list of 'legitimate gatherings,' you'd be in big trouble. Jeez. Talk about tyranny.

The book in particular really makes fun of the Nazi love of ridiculous, excessive bureaucracy. Every animal born on the island during this period of Occupation had to be registered with the occupying German forces and birth certificates were issued to each individual piggy-wiggy that popped out of its mother's womb during this time.

This was mostly so that the islanders couldn't keep any juicy succulent animals back for themselves, but I suppose that the certificates would come in handy too for when the pigs decided to settle down and get married. That way everything would be nice and legal, lol. You didn't want any pigs being born on the wrong side of the blanket, as it were, and as for pigs-in-blankets, well...!

The Occupation years were cold, lonely hungry ones for the islanders, most of whose children had had to be evacuated to England in advance (but not by much!) of the Germans landing on the Guernsey shores. 

The children were gone for five long years, and the islanders who wanted them shipped to safety received only about a day's notice of the actual evacuation procedure. How dreadful and yet how necessary at the same time, necessary to keep the young 'uns safe. 

Eben Ramsey says in the film that he'll 'never forgive the Germans for making him miss out on five years of his grandson Eli's childhood.' You can hardly blame him. Imagine an island without children, just like that sad, too-quiet and joyless Kingdom in the movie CHITTY-CHITTY-BANG-BANG.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was born both out of the loneliness of the islanders under a strict curfew who were discouraged from meeting with each other socially, and also out of the actual physical hunger they experienced during the Occupation.

There reached a point, in fact, when every animal on the island had been eaten and even the Germans themselves were starting to starve. I won't give away the exact details of the Society's birth but the story behind its exact conception is a warmly humorous and random one.

Anyway, the writer in Juliet, a sassy, feisty bright-as-a-button brunette, decides to hotfoot it over to Guernsey to attend one of the meetings of the Society. She's immediately attracted to Dawsey Adams, the pig-farmer, and they share a love of the same books, which bodes ill for her husband-to-be Markham Reynolds, the dominant American millionaire, with whom she has little in common.

Juliet meets Amelia Maugery, the Grande Dame of the Society, and Isola Pribby, an eccentric but warm-hearted and generous spinster of the parish who's never had any lover but Heathcliff. There's also the aforementioned Eben Ramsey, a lovely old gent who's been left to bring up his grandson Eli after both his parents died in the war.

Conspicuous by her absence is Elizabeth McKenna, the Society's founder and resident quick thinker and bright spark. She's 'off-island at the moment,' says Amelia Maugery self-consciously when Juliet inquires about her. 'Off-island?' You can say that again.

Elizabeth's left behind a beautiful little four-year-old daughter called Kit, a tiny blonde cherub who calls Dawsey Adams 'Daddy' but she doesn't look anything like Dawsey. There's a mystery here that Juliet is anxious to get to the bottom of while she's on Guernsey.

Will Juliet find out where the tragic Elizabeth has gone to and what happened to her? Will she discover Kit's true parentage? Will she write a book about the people of Guernsey who've opened their hearts and their homes to her? This is something she wants to do very much, now that the war is over and she's sick and tired of good old Izzy Bickerstaff.

Will she fall head-over-heels in love with the handsome, self-effacing, tousle-haired pig farmer known locally as Dawsey Adams and, if she does, what the bloody blue blazes will it signify for Markham Reynolds, the Yankee millionaire? Mark likes to party while Juliet likes a quiet night in with a mug of Horlicks and a good book. They'll never get on. 

They're polar opposites but, on the other hand, don't opposites attract? I'm frightfully confused. Personally, I feel that a combining of Dawsey's diamond-in-the-rough good looks with Mark's money would altogether make for one delightful man. Almost the perfect husband, if you will.

I liked Bronagh Gallagher as the terrifyingly po-faced Charlotte Stimple, Juliet's boarding-house landlady when she first arrives on the island of Guernsey. Charlotte is narrow-minded, judgemental and pious, and from her we learn a lot about what the islanders (some of them anyway, the narrow-minded ones) think of the women they call 'Jerry-bags,' the Guernsey women who slept with or consorted with Nazis during the Occupation.

It seems like only the public stoning of these 'Jerry-bags' would appease the likes of the pinched-faced Charlotte Stimple, in whom the milk of human kindness has clearly been cut off at the mains. And compassion, empathy and understanding too, by the looks of things.

I forgot to tell you about the amazing network of security tunnels the Nazis built under the island which can still be seen today. Like everything else connected to the Nazis, however, they have a sad and troubling history. They were really built by the hundreds of 'Todt workers' or 'Death workers' the Nazis brought over from Germany to use as slave labour.

These workers were appallingly treated and many of them would have died during the building work from starvation, exhaustion and the physical abuse they received at the hands of their German masters. They were literally worked to death. This method of execution/extermination was the particular brainchild of Hitler's Reichsfuhrer, the bespectacled 'Heini' Himmler. A despicably nasty little plan from a nasty little man.

By the way, I'm not sure why the film is billed as a romantic mystery. It's a romance all right, but the only mystery involved is the whereabouts of Elizabeth and, from what we now know about the Nazis, there's not much of a mystery involved, sadly, only a cold and terrible inevitability.

I loved this film anyway, which made me aware for the first time of Guernsey's World War Two history and the Occupation. Just like Mary Ann Shaffer first became fascinated by the Channel Isles after reading a book called 'JERSEY UNDER THE JACKBOOT,' this film will probably be responsible for introducing a wealth of brand-new readers to Guernsey, its history and its distinctly promising possibilities as a touristy destination.

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY is out now on Digital Download, Blu-Ray and DVD from STUDIOCANAL. There'll probably be loads of copies of the book floating around now as movie tie-ins as well. There's a deliciously romantic love story in there in addition to the fascinating history piece about the Occupation of Guernsey, so you could say that there's something here for everyone. Oh, and there are also pigs. Let's not forget the pigs...!


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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