Collin's been a movie critic since 2009. In real life he works in marketing and is also a novelist ("Good Riddance" published in Oct 2015).
It’s been more than two years since we in America watched as Lady Edith married Bertie, and Anna and Bates celebrated the birth of their first child. Downton Abbey fans, however, need not pine away, as last month it was revealed that plans are underway for a full-length feature movie. And if that’s still not enough, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will easily tide you over in the meantime.
The latest Netflix original, based on the epistolary novel by the late Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece Annie Barrows, features four Downton regulars, along with a little Game of Thrones and The IT Crowd thrown in for good measure. Lily James, who solidified her star status and talent in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again just last month, leads the way as Juliet Ashton, an author in 1946 Britain looking for inspiration for her next book. After receiving a letter from Guernsey resident Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman), who has come into possession of her copy of Charles Lamb’s Essays of Elia and also tells her about his titular group, she sets out for the island herself to learn more.
Upon arrival she meets the Society members and immediately senses there’s much more to the group than any of them are willing to let on. Club Matron Amelia (Penelope Wilton) is particularly frosty and refuses to let Juliet write one word about the society. Only Dawsey himself, who spends his days on a farm caring for a young girl, begins to accept Juliet and explain the Society’s origins.
Eventually she learns the truth of who the young girl is and how she fits into the cold reception Juliet received. At the same time, Juliet’s American fiancé is growing impatient about her being gone for so long, and Dawsey clearly begins falling for her.
Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral), working from a collaborative script by Kevin Hood (Becoming Jane), Don Roos (Marley & Me), and Tom Bezucha (The Family Stone), took the seemingly un-filmable novel and turned it into a pleasant surprise. Filmed on the verdant shores of southwest England, Society not only fits snuggly into the gaping hole left by the conclusion of Downton but stands well enough on its own to be among Netflix’s more worthwhile offerings.
From the top down, the cast all do first-rate work, particularly James, Huisman, and Wilton (along with Katherine Parkinson as quirky Guernsey-ite Isola), and though much is changed from the original novel, the general gist is still intact. The film also (obviously) takes a more direct route than the book, but everything ends up in the same place, ensuring devotees of the source material won’t be too miffed by the other alterations.
There aren’t any stunning revelations a-brewing here, and Society certainly isn’t a game-changer on any level, but as a pleasant rom-dram for a rainy day, you could do much, much worse. It’s sweet and cute and lovely and charming with a little heft thrown in just to keep things interesting. And if that doesn’t scream (or perhaps genteelly whisper) “Downton Abbey”, I don’t know what does.