Netflix has picked up the U.S. release of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society following the film's successful theatrical release in the UK. Based on the 2008 epistolary novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, the film stars Lily James and comes to Netflix on the heels of her much-hyped turn in Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. So fans of the story may be wondering: is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society based on a true story? It's historical fiction, but the circumstances of the novel are very real.
The story takes place in England in the years following World War II. Juliet Ashton, a British writer, is on a cross-country book tour when she receives a letter from a fan named Dawsey Adams who lives in Guernsey, an English Channel Island off the French coast. During the course of their correspondence, he reveals that he is part of a secret society called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which catches Juliet's interest — for obvious reasons.
Historically, Guernsey was the only British territory occupied by the Nazis during the war, and as a means of getting around the strict curfew imposed on islanders, some of them decided to form a book club. As for the potato peels, the Nazi occupation and siphoning of island resources left citizens of Guernsey starving. They were forced to think up inventive recipes like the infamous "potato peel pie" to survive the brutal regime.
Shaffer visited the real life island in 1980 and was inspired by its history to write a book about the forgotten occupation.
"People are not really aware of the Occupation of the British territories in WWII," author Duncan Barrett, who wrote a book about the occupation called Hitler's British Isles, told The Mirror. "There's this myth that we didn't surrender — it's seen as somewhat of a chink in our armour." Because the Channel Islands weren't considered strategically important to Britain's hold on the mainland, British forces decided not to bother defending the islands militarily. German armies saw the undefended territory as an opportunity and swiftly occupied it.
The film features familiar storylines of wartime occupation, like families being split apart and resistance fighters being punished and imprisoned. About half the population of Guernsey was able to flee to the mainland before the Nazis invaded, and the remaining islanders were cut off from communication to the outside world. Even radios were confiscated.
This film adaptation is the first attempt to tell the story of the New York Times bestseller onscreen and the cast is pretty star-studded. Starring alongside James is Game of Thrones' Michiel Huisman, The Crown's Matthew Goode, and Downton Abbey alum Jessica Brown Findlay. The island itself still hosts The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Tour for visitors who want to learn more about the places, events, and people who inspired the film, but the characters themselves are fictional.
If you missed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society's theatrical release, it drops on Netflix August 10.