The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Movie: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: A London author (Lily James from Cinderella and Baby Driver) receives a letter from a quiet, hunky, mysterious man (Michiel Huisman, AKA Daario Naharis from Game of Thrones) who lives on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. He’s a part of a literary society with a fascinating origin story, and the writer eventually travels there to meet the group in person, only to realize their story is even more complex than she could have foreseen. Naturally, the writer and the hunk with the tragic backstory fall in love.

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: Director Mike Newell helmed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but he’s probably best known for his romantic films: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mona Lisa Smile, Pushing Tin, and Love in the Time of Cholera. (He also directed the atrocious 2010 Disney movie Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, but nobody’s perfect.) This movie puts him fully back in romance mode, and while writers Don Roos and Tom Bezucha do a lot of heavy lifting with the script, which can veer from swooning romance to, um, some Nazi stuff, Newell is responsible for making watching the film feel like the movie equivalent of curling up at a seaside cottage to read your favorite novel. With its sweeping countrysides, stunning vistas, and sublime lighting, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is among the most beautifully shot of Netflix’s original movies.

About that title: yes, it’s extremely ridiculous, but the movie knows it. It’s explained in the first five minutes, and even though I was already primed to like this movie, the charming explanation somehow made me even more eager to see how the story played out.

But as the headline indicates, this isn’t a whimsical romance without consequence. There’s a tinge of tragedy here, since the story largely takes place in the aftermath of World War II and focuses on how Guernsey was occupied by the Nazis, with one of the book club’s members being embroiled in some action that has some crushing repercussions. Still, it isn’t Schindler’s List. It acknowledges some real-world terrors, but it doesn’t dwell on them. After all, there’s a romance to get back to!

The movie doesn’t break any new ground in the story department, but James and Huisman are so fantastic in the lead roles that it doesn’t much matter. James is the mayor of Charm City as the audience surrogate, peeling back layers of mystery as she uncovers the truth about the members of this unconventional book club. And Huisman is in top form in this classical “tragic leading man” mode, emotionally vulnerable but physically strong and intellectually engaged by James’ character. It also helps that she’s lovely and he’s hot – on a pure thirst level, this movie is a pleasure to watch. The film sort of feels like a throwback in that way: you can almost imagine an old-timey studio executive say, “Who do we have under contract? Grab that tall drink of water and a nice dame, have ’em kiss, and we got ourselves a picture!”

The supporting cast who round out the book club members are delightful in their own ways, from a dithering old postal worker (Tom Courtenay) to a lonely single woman (Katherine Parkinson) to a grieving mother figure (Penelope Wilton). Plus, the film gives us a dash of Glen Powell (Set It Up), playing a rich American vying for James’s heart. Sorry, pal – no amount of riches can compare to Huisman’s Hot Beard Energy. If this ends up being Mike Newell’s final movie (he’s currently 78 years old and currently doesn’t have any new projects lined up), his film career will have been capped with a winner.

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