British History Hits The Silver Screen

2016/2017 was a booming year for the British film industry. It contributed £7.7bn to the economy in 2016 alone – an 80% jump in five years. While many of these films have been part of popular movie franchises such as Star Wars and James Bond, many have had a strong sense of national and regional heritage and history from the heart of London to the English countryside.

The recent release of the  Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society marks another film based on a fundamental chapter in British history- World War 2. But a chapter that many might not know much about, or even be aware of- the occupation of Guernsey by the Nazis.


Set in 1946, the film stars Downton Abbeys Lily James as London journalist Juliet Ashton, who, through a series of letters, forms a life-changing bond with members of a book society which met in secret during the German occupation of Guernsey in the Second World War. She decides to visit the island, write about the club and meet its members to find out what life was like under five hard years of Nazi rule. The film sees Guernsey residents forced to invent a book club to explain their gathering to occupying Nazis during World War II. Post-war, the small society is still going strong — and actually reading books.

Based on the best-selling novel, by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer, this has all the ingredients of a mainstream heart-warmer and on that level it doesn’t disappoint. Its the old town-versus-country dilemma for our heroine, who also has the complication of a charismatic American boyfriend (Glen Powell) nobody on Guernsey knows about.

Whilst being a wonderfully heart-warming movie, it uncovers fascinating history about the German Occupation from Guernsey. The people of the Channel Islands got to know the enemy as those on mainland Britain never could, watching in horror as their towns and villages were suddenly draped in swastika flags, their cinemas began showing German propaganda films and Wehrmacht soldiers goose-stepped down their high streets.

Gerry & Dave aren’t the most cinematic people, so they got in touch with BBC film critic Anna Smith, and historian and Sunday Times best-selling war writer Duncan Barrett.