So, as far as romantic heroes go, island pig farmer has gotta be roughly in the middle of the pack right? Like, it’s all the necessary parts of rugged and parochial but slightly elevated. Nobody wants to fall for the dullard with a field full of leeks. And a horse breeder would obviously be some sort of unbearable in the other direction. Nah, this is a man who can look after livestock, whose hands are probably calloused after a tough day out with the animals, but soft enough for you afterwards. Besides, shepherds are either boring or stoners and cows basically look after themselves.
The only unromantic bit about the life would be the pigs. They’re apparently very intelligent animals but their general demeanour is totally, if you’ll pardon the pun, boorish. Dawsey Adams, a preposterously named heartthrob, is the postwar pig farmer of the channel island of Guernsay, a place which isn’t really British but definitely isn’t French. He has figured out a way around the conundrum of the romantic pig farmer, he exclusively raises cute piglets.
Like, we only see one pig in the flick, just shortly before he slaughters and butchers it (hot). Aside from that he’s working twine and sticks into little fences to the soft, pink, squishy babies in. There’s a scene where Michiel Huisman, the actor playing Dawsey and his costar Lily James just play around in a pen. It’s benign chaos seems almost unscripted, they’re feeding the animals, throwing them about. In a static long shot one of the piglets gets out and my dude awkwardly climbs over the fence and runs after it shouting.
The thing with good romance movies is that you don’t just gotta fall in love with the characters, you gotta fall in love with their love. It’s easier now that we finally have simple language to understand it. A good relationship has is goals. If some couple got so much healthy, productive love inside them that your world would be a worse place if they split then they’re goals. Course a real good melodrama will have the world literally ending if the love was made unreal, that’s why the sillier thing is to not cry watching sappy movies, they’re literally about the ends of days.
But before the pig farmer man and the island that is totally closer to France but still isn’t, the days belong to Juliet Ashton. She’s a London essayist and author, most famous for the satirical short stories she publishes under a man’s name. While her publisher insists that she tour the bookshops of a fractured Britain pimping her latest collection she is informed of the existence of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a reading group founded during the Nazi occupation of the Second World War.
Tantalised by a story of courage in the face of oppression and the power of the written word to overcome fascism, as just about literally author (seriously there’s more books about writers than there are films about filmmakers) would be. She decides bones to her obligations, I will meet these heroic readers and tell their story. Turns out there’s more to their story than first met the eye, and a cutie farm man to turn the eye, also the psychological wounds of an island as scarred in its own way as the blasted streets of London.
You start feeling sorry for Glen Powell pretty early on. I suppose someone has got to play the stick-in-the-mud boyfriend, and the film wisely chooses to make him banal rather than evil. But… Glen Powell’s so good though, he’s so good, thankfully if you catch this joint you’ll get to see him at his full power during the inevitable breakup scene where he transposes these lines that could collapse into self-pitying whimpering into a perfect brick wall of comedy.
Aside from that moment, just about the whole movie is played as straight as a nail. It’s got all the necessary amounts of handwringing. The, ‘What if… bad prisoners and good Nazis?’ type speculation that I’m sure must play to somebody. Like, Suite Française was a film that were actually made and it’s like, these people were fucking monsters. Yeah, the Nazi love interest plot twist comes right after we learn that there was a labour camp on the island. I don’t get the appeal honestly, maybe if you’d fit into the master race you see less to fear in it. I dunno, hard to keep the sympathy for the folks who be thinking you’re subhuman.
It’s weird that that aspect falls squarely into the straight storytelling category, but these things exist on the edges so often don’t they. Katherine Parkinson has a good turn as a witchy affable lush which might be my favourite type of screen alcoholic. It more or less carries itself along in its own pleasant kinda way, it’s a Mike Newell joint after all. In a few years’ time the only memorable thing will be its car crash of a title. That’s not fair, the title makes sense, it’s just out of style right now.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is still screening in UK cinemas.
Images courtesy of Studiocanal