A story doesn’t have to be complicated to be profound.
The best ingredients for a deep, rich story are these: real people, honesty, love, healing, and an understanding of the purpose and potential of stories in general.
Netflix’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society combines all of the above to create a warm and beautiful story full of truth and healing.
Based on a book of the same title, the movie stars Lily James as Juliet Ashton, a lovely young British writer in post-WWII England. She’s beautiful, talented, sought after by a wealthy American, and enjoying the beginning fruits of a long future as a successful author.
And she’s lost.
It’s England, 1946. The war is over. People are breathing again. Repairing and painting their homes. Dancing. Starting businesses and families. The war is over…outwardly anyway.
But Juliet still feels the choking dust of the London Blitz. Of the millions dead or missing. Of the years of lack. Of her own trauma and loneliness that she has bottled up inside.
“Do you ever feel like we’ve emerged from a long black tunnel into a carnival?” Juliet Ashton
Juliet is reeling from the experiences of the past years, including losing her parents. She feels overwhelmed with the new joy as she is still holding too much sadness and torment to have room for anything else. She feels guilty for this feeling, which only adds to her sense of being displaced…until…
Enter, Dawsey Adams, writing from the island of Guernsey, a tiny British island located in the English Channel between England and France. An island that experienced German occupation and all the horrors that accompanied it during the war.
Dawsey Adams, a gentle farmer, writes Juliet with a very simple request. He asks her for a book. He came across an old book that previously belonged to her, the information he discovered when he found her name and former address in the front of the book. This letter begins a fascinating correspondence in which Dawsey tells Juliet about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a book club society begun by a few Guernsey residents in order to cover up a roast pig from the Germans.
Intrigued? So is Juliet. So intrigued in fact that after corresponding for a time, she makes the journey to Guernsey herself to meet this group of people and hear their full story.
I am not a fan of many of the works Netflix has put out. While I applaud series like Lost in Space, Lost and Found, Dragons: Race to the Edge, Greenhouse Academy, there is still so much garbage that Netflix has created. Trashy comedies that mock beautiful people and things, action movies that could be intriguing except…86 f-bombs, really, Netflix? That’s enough to make a sailor blush!
13 Reasons Why has caused damage to the world. The Michelle Wolf special was a fiasco for everyone concerned. Anne With An E lacks understanding and proper respect for the purpose and classic story of Anne of Green Gables.
Netflix is not my hero by any stretch of the imagination. But I loved The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society.
It’s masterful storytelling. You glide back and forth between the present and the past, discovering the true story of the Society as Juliet does. It’s a mystery unveiled only a piece at a time, but you are always dying to know more. As Juliet discovers this story and these people, she begins to unravel the deep well of grief and feeling in her own heart, and she begins to heal.
For years Juliet has been creating this well inside of herself. It’s dark and deep, so empty and full of echoes. And she can’t seem to reach it, can’t seem to fully comprehend it. She cannot grasp what she wants, or what she needs. She cannot enter into rest. She cannot find a place to call home. She cannot dream about her future, all she can do is react.
The members of the Society have grieved as well. They are still grieving, but you recognize a marked difference in their grief versus the grief of those around them, including Juliet. And I’ll tell you what this difference is.
They are not grieving alone, but rather they are sharing the hurt as it comes and celebrating and creating joy even in the midst of it.
There is a life to the members of the Society that draws Juliet in like the tide. She’s been alone for so long, but no longer. As soon as she begins to know these people, she begins to unravel everything inside of her. She begins to laugh, truly laugh. She can see the world. She has a fire burning inside of her. She cries, she cries so much. She hurts, she hurts so much. But at least she is feeling something. And so, the healing begins. Why? Because she is no longer hurting alone.
What brought all of these people together? A story. A made-up story to cover up an innocent get-together that is criminalized by a cruel world. And that made-up story turned into a deeper story. It intertwined several people’s lives as they began to share in a love for stories, and it gave them a place to belong. People to stand with. Shoulders to help bear their burdens. Hearts to laugh with. And a future to share. And they became a story so deep, so compelling, they drew in yet another soul (Juliet) out of the cold and gave her a place to begin the healing.
This story shows people as people like us. People who are hurting from pain and grief no human beings should ever have to bear. The things they have seen and had done to them are WRONG, and you feel the wrongness of it clearly, you cry out with the characters at all they have endured. It also shows the purpose and joy of stories, their power to heal and to connect. It shows how simply sharing your life with people can bring so much joy in the midst of suffering. It shows people giving each other grace despite their flaws. It shows people who see beyond the outer shell to the heart within. It shows what true love can build and the redemption it carries.
And this story gives us permission to grieve over the things that have hurt us. And it gives us permission to let that happen in as much time as we need. And it beckons us to find a people, a tribe to share our griefs and our joys with.
Real stories flow, they are not in separate boxes or segments. One part is deeply connected to another. Grief and joy can be but a word or sentence apart. Healing happens in the midst of the feeling. And sharing your story with others can make all the difference.
That is what Juliet Ashton discovers. And as Juliet discovers it, so do we.
My friends, I don’t understand everything in this world, but these are the few things I know for sure.
God is real, more real than I ever imagined. He is good, better than any of us have ever comprehended. Tragedy and grief are all around us in this fallen world, and it breaks my heart just as it breaks God’s. God is love, and love conquers all.
Joy and grief are not mutually exclusive. Healing takes time. We are in each other’s lives for a reason. And none of us was made to be alone, but rather to share life together.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society touched me like a warm summer breeze drifting off of the sea. And as I saw this movie, I got to heal a tiny bit because I felt understood.
Friend, your story matters. You matter. And I want you to share your story with the world. I want you to allow yourself to feel, the grief and the joy.
Perhaps in the midst of it you will even decide that you should have a roast pig and begin a book club.