20th April 2018

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie film opened

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society ended up being the biggest book about Guernsey since Toilers of the Sea. It’s more accessible than The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, too, so we shouldn’t be surprised that it was the first Guernsey story to get the really big cinema treatment.

The film starred Lily James as Juliet Ashton, a London writer searching for a new story at the end of the Second World War. Quite by chance, she comes into contact with a group of friends on Guernsey who formed a reading group on the fly when caught out after curfew during the occupation.

Julet gets to know them through a series of letters and, sensing that there might be enough material to write a magazine article, visits Guernsey to meet them. She falls in love with the island and its people, and the encounter changes her life forever.

Much of the story surrounds the bravery of Elizabeth McKenna who, in the film, is played by Jessica Brown Findlay. She played Lady Sybil Crawley in three series of Downton Abbey, the period drama that was later joined by the film’s Lily James, in which she played Lady Rose.

Guernsey… but not Guernsey

Although it promotes the island, very little of the film was actually shot in Guernsey because it was too logistically difficult. Some footage was inserted for the sake of realism, but otherwise filming took place on the mainland. Devon and Cornwall stood in for Guernsey in most scenes. Bideford was used for St Peter Port. Morwenstow, Cornwall, was used for coastal scenes. Clovelly, Devon, was used for the harbour.

Filming began in March 2017 under the direction of Mike Newell. The film was financed by StudioCanal, which also handled distribution. It had been several years in the planning, with Kenneth Brannagh at one point appointed to direct it. Kate Winslet, Emily Blunt and Anne Hathaway were at various times named as potential lead actors.

The book

The book of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society took even long to come about than the film did. Author Mary Ann Shaffer had visited Guernsey around 20 years before starting work on the novel, but seen very little of the island. Just as she landed, the fog came down, and she spent most of her time at Guernsey Airport reading history books.

Sadly, she didn’t live long enough to see how successful her work would become. Shaffer became ill after the manuscript had been accepted by a publisher, but before she’d finished her edits. Her niece, Annie Barrows finished them on her behalf, earning her a joint credit.

Mary Ann Shaffer died on 16 February 2008.


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