Mak­ing his­tory

Holly Kirk­wood de­scribes how a de­light­ful book and its film adap­ta­tion have brought new ad­mir­ers to the is­land’s shores

Country Life Every Week - - Country Life International -

From en­chant­ing clifftops and white sandy bays to the pretty cob­bled streets of St Peter Port, Guernsey is a won­der­ful place to pot­ter around. The pace of life is un­hur­ried; a pos­i­tively serene speed limit of 35mph means even driv­ers take their time as the bees buzz lazily and fam­i­lies play cricket on the beach. These old-world charms have been at­tract­ing tourists for years, and rightly so, but, this spring, the re­lease of a high-pro­file new film shone a light onto a lit­tle­known chap­ter of the is­land’s his­tory.

Di­rected by the ac­claimed di­rec­tor mike Newell, of Four Wed­dings and

a Fu­neral fame, and star­ring Lily James, The Guernsey Lit­er­ary and Potato Peel Pie So­ci­ety was re­leased in April, in­tro­duc­ing the is­land to a whole new au­di­ence.

The film is based on the book of the same name, writ­ten by mary Ann Shaf­fer and co-au­thored by her niece, An­nie Bar­rows. Set dur­ing the Sec­ond World War and its after­math, the story cen­tres around a small ru­ral com­mu­nity in Guernsey and how it dealt with four years of Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion.

Pub­lished in 2008, the novel quickly be­came a word-of-mouth hit and, de­spite its un­known au­thor, who died the year it was pub­lished, un­usual sub­ject mat­ter and com­pletely ec­cen­tric ti­tle, read­ers world­wide fell in love with it; to date, it’s sold more than 7.5 mil­lion copies.

The ge­n­e­sis of the book was as un­likely as its suc­cess: Shaf­fer wasn’t an au­thor—she was a li­brar­ian and ed­i­tor from West Vir­ginia—but she hap­pened across a his­tory of the oc­cu­pa­tion on a visit to Guernsey in 1976, which made her want to know more. The Nazis oc­cu­pied the Chan­nel Is­lands from June 1940 un­til may

‘De­spite its un­usual sub­ject mat­ter and ec­cen­tric ti­tle, read­ers fell in love with it’

‘When the pro­tag­o­nist vis­its Guernsey, she finds a rich tapestry of light and dark ’

1945, by which time these mi­cro­scopic dots in the English Chan­nel had be­come the most heav­ily de­fended lo­ca­tion along the whole At­lantic Wall.

What in­ter­ested Shaf­fer, how­ever, was not the his­tor­i­cal de­tail, but rather the mov­ing story of what hap­pened to the com­mu­ni­ties. It wasn’t un­til 30 years af­ter her ini­tial visit that she was per­suaded to put pen to pa­per by her book group, and she used re­al­life sto­ries from sur­vivors to bring the man­u­script to life. The re­sult is a charm­ing epis­to­lary novel writ­ten with verve and wit, fea­tur­ing a cast of char­ac­ters you wish would jump off the page and take you to lunch.

It’s also some­how a quintessen­tially English book, de­spite be­ing writ­ten by an Amer­i­can. The prose evokes Wode­house and Wilde and ef­fort­lessly con­jures post­war life in London.

It also tack­les some pretty se­ri­ous is­sues. When the pro­tag­o­nist, Juliet Ash­ton, vis­its Guernsey, she dis­cov­ers a rich tapestry of light and dark; the is­land is pop­u­lated by glo­ri­ous char­ac­ters who make us laugh, but, as the story de­vel­ops, we learn the ex­tent to which they suf­fer.

The film re­mains faith­ful to the story and Mr Newell eas­ily trans­lates the vi­va­cious en­ergy of the book onto the screen, adding lus­cious land­scapes and pleas­ing pe­riod de­tail. Matthew Goode, Jes­sica Brown Find­lay and Pene­lope Wil­ton all join Lily James in a par­tial Downton Abbey re­union

and the cast does a bril­liant job in bring­ing Shaf­fer’s char­ac­ters to life.

Al­though much of the film­ing took place in north Devon, the film is, as is the book, an un­abashed love let­ter to Guernsey and its peo­ple, as well as a trib­ute to the joy of read­ing.

The is­land is no stranger to host­ing fans of The Guernsey Lit­er­ary and

Potato Peel Pie So­ci­ety. ‘It’s been a real driver for tourism through the in­ter­est in ac­tiv­i­ties such as guided walks, tours and ex­hi­bi­tions that are linked to the novel,’ says Mike Hop­kins of Vis­itguernsey. ‘We hope the film will have a sim­i­lar ef­fect on our tourist num­bers, with an ex­pected 6%–9% up­lift in the next two years.’

As the film retells the en­chant­ing story on the big screen, is­lan­ders wel­come those who wish to ex­pe­ri­ence this very spe­cial place for them­selves. Let’s just hope none of them bring their Lam­borgh­i­nis.

From the visit of a West Vir­ginian li­brar­ian to an ac­claimed film star­ring Lily James: Guernsey has won ad­mir­ers world­wide

The taste of wartime re­silience: hero­ine Juliet Ash­ton tries the fa­mous potatopeel pie for the first time

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.