Based on the much-loved novel of the same name, this may probably win an award for the most cumbersome movie title of the year (I was very glad Twitter had upped the word count when I tweeted from the Irish premiere).
There is a reason for the clunky title that we are informed of in the opening minutes of the film. It is a fictional society, made up by a group of people to avoid punishment for missing curfew during the German occupation of Guernsey.
Caught on the hop, they come up with it off the top of their heads, and it sticks. And yes, you read right – the Germans did indeed occupy Guernsey during WWII. But this is a review and not a history lesson, so google that if you want to know more.
This movie is set just after the end of the war, so we get glimpses of the German invasion in flashback.
James plays author, Juliet Ashton, who strikes up an unlikely pen-pal relationship with Guernsey native, Dawsey Adams (Huisman) when he writes requesting one of her books.
After corresponding for a while, and learning about the society, she decides to visit the island and meet the people behind it for herself. However, she gets more than she bargained for with people still traumatised by the events of the war, unwilling to share their secrets. Realising that there may be a much better story there than she thought, she opts to stay a while longer, much to the chagrin of her dashing American fiancé, Mark (Powell).
This is almost a Brit-flick by numbers. It is extremely picturesque, exceedingly charming, and full of eccentric characters. Although the Nazis occupation may lie at the heart of the premise, we see very little of their wrongdoings. Instead, this keeps its stiff upper lip firmly and stoically in place, as the residents of the island get on with their post-war lives.
Overall, this is well-acted (although James does sigh an awful lot!) but I did feel Matthew Goode was woefully underused in the role of Juliet’s agent. Equally, we don’t see much of Brown Findlay, whose character is essentially central to the story. Instead the focus is very much on James and Huisman, and their simmering chemistry.
Party mystery, part love-story, and part historical drama, this offers nothing new, and wouldn’t feel out of place on a Sunday evening on BBC1. Of course, its stellar cast merits a cinema release, and there is a familiarity about this that is comforting.
It is extremely nice and extremely genteel, and you will leave the cinema thinking it was lovely. But that’s about it. Sometimes you just want nice and lovely though, and this is perfect for those moments.
In Cinemas April 20th! See trailer below: