By Stephanie Zacharek
August 9, 2018

Don’t be put off by the overly adorable title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, streaming on Netflix, offers the kind of cushiony stealth charm that’s easy to sink into. Lily James (most recently seen in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, as a younger version of Meryl Streep’s Donna) stars as Juliet, a young London novelist who has found great success just after World War II, though she’s also reeling from grief: her parents were killed in the war, and she has no place she can call home, literally or emotionally. Then she strikes up a correspondence with a pig farmer, Dawsey (Game of Thrones‘ Michiel Huisman), from Guernsey, a place still recovering from its own recent wartime horrors: the Germans who occupied the island have been driven out, but the locals carry aching memories of deprivation and near starvation.

Yet a small group of islanders–played by a superb ensemble that includes not just Huisman but also veteran actors Tom Courtenay and Penelope Wilton–found camaraderie and sustenance via an accidentally formed book club. (Originally it was just a ruse to throw the Germans off the trail of a roast pig they’d lucked into.) Now the war is over, but the club lives on, and Juliet pays a visit intending to write a story about it.

This is also a love story, most likely featuring the most handsome pig farmer in the history of film and television. Is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—directed by Mike Newell and adapted from the novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows–wholly realistic in depicting the hardship of postwar English life? No–but extreme realism isn’t the point. Newell is one of those sturdy English directors who has lent his hand to an array of lively, vivid pictures, from widely seen and well-loved movies like Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) to charmers that many have forgotten about, like the rejuvenating, watercolor-hued Enchanted April (’91). His warm, light touch, coupled with Zac Nicholson’s lush, evocative cinematography (with ruggedly gorgeous Devon and Cornwall filling in for Guernsey as a location), make this idyll a pleasure. It’s simply a movie that makes you feel welcome.

 

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This appears in the August 20, 2018 issue of TIME.

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