I love a good historical fiction. It’s probably my favorite genre, and there are some that are done better than others (of course, it’s true that you’ll find trash in any genre if you look). I am particularly drawn to ones that cover an area of the world that I am perhaps not as familiar with, or that give the reader a glimpse at some aspect of a familiar time period, but with a twist. Last spring, I read a book that I thought was lovely, and hit most of my requirements (are you familiar with the Isle of Guernsey? I was not before reading the book), and which I mentioned at the time was being made into a movie.
Well, the movie was finished, and it turns out it was easier to be able to watch it (especially as a new mum) than expected, because Netflix bought it! Instead of seeing advertisements and wishing I had the kind of free time that let me go to the movies anymore, I simply waited for an evening when the Boy would be out (What’s this? Phish are in town? Hello consecutive nights of Maggie-centric Netflix time!), and then settle in for a cozy night of historical romance.
This movie feels like it should have been on Masterpiece Theater. In fact, looking at the cast, it’s hard not to think that the producers had just finished bingeing Downton Abbey, and then just said, “Get me as many of those people as you can who are free and will fit in roles.” Because not only do we have Lily James in the starring role, but Jessica Brown Findlay, Penelope Wilton and Matthew Goode. The rest of the main cast should look pretty familiar as well – Michiel Huisman from Game of Thrones/Orphan Black, Katherine Parkinson from The IT Crowd, and Glen Powell who seems to be in every movie I watch these days.
The transition from book to screen was obviously a little challenging – the original novel is written in letters and telegrams, and the movie is not done in that way. Because of that, stories that took poking and prodding to come out in the book are shown immediately in the movie. Events which were shown from multiple perspectives are condensed to just the one. Everything feels much tighter and part of a plot with some drive to it. And even so, there are whole subplots that are left out, especially a romantic one that happens towards the end of the book. I just now looked to see how long the movie was, and apparently it clocked in at 2 hours, which surprised me (in a good way). Too often you have long movies that feel every minute of their screen time, but with Guernsey, the plot moved at a brisk pace, and you didn’t feel like you were sitting on your butt for 2 hours. I found myself wishing they had put more of the book bits in, so that’s a good sign, I think.
I think there used to be this stigma with movies that were “direct to video” – that they were put together in a slap-dash way, and not nearly good enough to be shown in theaters. But I think that bias is starting to change, especially when one of those movies is being bought for exclusive showing on Amazon, Netflix or the like. If you can get a known property (especially a book like this one which I feel like was read by half the book clubs in America), and get some relatively familiar faces for the adaptation, you are are guaranteeing yourself an easy draw with people who will want to continue their subscription in order to watch this movie, or who will make an effort in some other way to watch it.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable movie – one with a plot which has been better shaped simply by being a movie – with familiar actors and gorgeous scenery. It’s not really breaking new ground, and I don’t think it’s the kind of movie that wins awards come Oscar season, but is that really what you want on a Sunday night when you’re watching Netflix on your own? No – you want some historical romance fluff, and this movie is that, but very well done.
Details: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, screenplay by Don Roos, Kevin Hood and Thomas Bezucha. Directed by Mike Newell. Available on Netflix.