Guernsey is a tiny island in the English Channel. It was occupied by Germans during WW2, and the people of Guernsey suffered deprivations of course. So it was the Nazis’ fault they had to form a Literary AND Potato Peel Pie Society one night, spur of the moment. For the rest of the war, five friends read books and then met to discuss them, whilst eating awful potato peel pie. With only a limited amount of books, Dawsey (Michiel Huisman) writes to a stranger in London, a name he finds randomly in one of the second-hand books he reads, to ask for the name of a bookstore from which he may order more. Juliet (Lily James), a writer and book lover herself, is quite taken by the request, and she writes back, including several titles for he and the society to enjoy. They keep up a correspondence for quite some time, and when the war ends, she heads to Guernsey to meet the characters from the letters in the hopes that she may write to them.
Juliet is welcomed warmly but meets with resistance when she broaches the topic of writing. The society wish to remain anonymous. They’ve suffered more than just deprivation during the war. One of the society is missing, and the rest are secretive, protective.
I loved this book. The movie feels a little less special, not even living up to its quirky title. It’s predictable and conventionally told, but gosh darn is it pretty to look at. It’s a satisfying period romance with a great ensemble cast. It’s too bad the script plays it safe, but it’s still a sweet little movie. It’s not breaking any new ground, and you’ll have to make due with London standing in for Guernsey. But Lily James is her sparkling, charming self, so if the movie is hard to love, it’s easy to like.
Catherine and Ben are a couple of brilliant scientists who decide to distinguish their research from the pack by becoming field scientists like no one ever has before. They get an enthusiastic financial backer and retreat to a cabin in the woods where they’ll put nature vs nurture to the ultimate test, asking: could we ever have been anyone other than who we are?
Catherine (Toni Collette) is pregnant, and she and Ben (Matthew Goode) plan to raise their son contrary to his genetic predisposition; the son of scientists will be nurtured toward the artistic. To flesh out their research, they adopt two more children, a girl from dimwit parents who will be nurtured to have high intellect, and a boy adopted from violent people who will be ushered toward pacifism. Thus pass 12 years. But as time goes by, it seems evident that the kids aren’t tending toward any kind of genius. They’re mediocre, leaning toward their natural tendencies. Their benefactor isn’t pleased with the results. And with competing research on the brink of publishing, he’s pushing for things to be rather brought to a head, without seeming to realize that these are actual children we’re talking about. And though Catherine is properly horrified by the thought, Ben is perhaps slower to protest.
Birthmarked is an interesting premise, and well-acted; aside from Toni Collette, who is an absolute boss and can do no wrong, never has, I was particularly pleased by a pop-up role from Xavier Dolan muse and frequent collaborator, Suzanne Clement. But these extremely talented folk seem to ramble around in a script that needed a lot of tightening. Rambling to no particular avail, either – blink and you’ll miss the “climax” which is not a word that adequately describes something simply ending. Birthmarked felt a lot like Captain Fantastic‘s ugly cousin – looser, less successful. And since it falls way short of the oddball charm I hope like heck it was aiming for, the whole thing feels a lot more like…well, child abuse. None of the characters is the true star, so the whole thing feels rather pointless and lusterless, and I can’t help but wish it was directed by nearly anyone else since nearly everyone else has a point of view, and that’s what I missed the most in this movie with a good idea and zero execution.