Director:           Mike Newell

Stars:              Lily James, Matthew Goode, Penelope Wilton

Running time: 124 mins

Ratings:           IMDB                      7.4      (IMDB score is weighted average of audience scores out of 10)

             Rotten Tomatoes    80%    (Rotten Tomatoes score is % of professional critic reviews that are

                                                                     positive)

Awards:          

 

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 Reviews:

This handsomely shot, elegant and engaging film by and large avoids the cloying winsomeness of its title to paint a vivid portrait of an era — possibly unknown to younger readers — when the Führer ruled over subjects of the King who (without technically being so) looked, sounded and regarded themselves as thoroughly British.

It flashes back and forth between the malnourished Nazi-occupied Guernsey of 1941 and the champagne-soaked austerity London of 1946, where 30-ish Juliet Ashton (Lily James in her first plucky wartime outing since the excellent Darkest Hour) is getting rich from the jolly-hockey-sticks fiction she writes under a nom de plume but longs to be a serious author. All she needs is a cracking story to tell, and knock me down with a feather if one doesn’t land in her lap.

Dishy, bookish Guernsey pig farmer Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman, tantalisingly close to eradicating all trace of his Dutch accent) writes after finding her name inscribed in a Charles Lamb tome. They strike up a correspondence, and before long Juliet is giving wealthy new American fiancé Mark (Glen Powell) a passionless dockside kiss goodbye as she boards the ferry to St Peter Port to investigate TGLAPPPS on behalf of The Times.

Settling in to a dismal boarding house  presided over by a hateful religious maniac landlady who makes the Gestapo seem cuddly, she guiltily slides the gigantic diamond ring off her finger and into her purse. You can see where matters are heading. This is not a film to deliver seismic shocks with either of its concurrent strands — the light metropolitan fancy Dan vs bucolic, strong -silent-type love triangle; and the dark detective story about the disappearance from Guernsey of Elizabeth McKenna (James’s fellow Downton Abbey alumna Jessica Brown Findlay, too little seen here) five years earlier.

It was Elizabeth who haltingly conjured that title when she and fellow book club members were caught out after curfew by German soldiers. Under pressure she glances at the repulsive pie baked and held by sweetly dithery postmaster Eben Ramsey (Tom Courtenay), and ellides the two. The Huns react precisely as anyone on nodding terms with sanity would. They turn on their heels and walk briskly away.

Tragic events ensue after that nocturnal encounter. Imperious book club matriarch Amelia Maugery (Penelope Wilton) lost her daughter and unborn grandchild to a bomb. Then her substitute daughter Elizabeth vanished, leaving her baby daughter behind with Dawsey, whom she calls Daddy. No one, not even permanently sozzled gin bootlegger and Brontë sisters superfan Isola Pribby (Katherine Parkinson, adding poignancy to the comic relief), wants to tell Juliet why.

The resolution of that mystery is much less clearly telegraphed than the romantic denouement. But anyone familiar with Guernsey’s occupied history is in pole position to make a guess, and director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) overdoes the painstaking languor with which Juliet unravels it. 

For all that, and despite all the top-of- the-range period detail from an age of such quaintness that book clubbers actually read the books — rather than watched the movie and bluffed it like decent godfearing folk — Newell rigorously rations the comfort-food nostalgia.

Lily James dominates, juggling empathetic warmth and restless conflict with real poise, and the ensemble support is consistently good (not least from Kit Connor as Eben’s grandson Eli).

With James, Wilton and Brown Findlay joined by Matthew Goode as Juliet’s publisher, the extremely casual or drunken observer might wonder about having stumbled into the wrong pie-themed movie — this one being entitled Downton Abbey’s Over and We Need to Make a Crust.

If overloading the cast with Old Downtonians was a ruse to seduce Netflix, it worked. So here’s one last Henmaniacal positive. It not a single non-coastal American would dream of buying a ticket for The Guernsey Yada Yada And Blah Blah Blah Whatever, the joke’s on them as it won’t be in US cinemas anyway.

MATTHEW NORMAN

EVENING STANDARD