By the halfway point in this slice of cinematic comfort food you’ll be finding it hard to believe that it was directed by the man who made ‘Donnie Brasco’. And on a CV that boasts two Hugh Grant films, Mike Newell’s adaptation of a bestseller set in German-held Guernsey is his gentlest work to date. If you’re looking for the visceral churn of, say, Tom Courtenay stoving in Nazi heads with a hammer, ‘Brasco’-style, you’ll be disappointed.
That unwieldy title refers to a book group hastily invented by friends (including Courtenay and Jessica Brown Findlay) who have been caught after curfew by Nazi soldiers. Soon this fictitious society is meeting for real – and burying secrets in its midst. Five years on, Lily James’s novelist gets a letter from one of the group, who’s found her name inscribed in one of their books. Heading to the island, she discovers that her penpal is a dashing farmer (Michiel Huisman) and that the group is hiding some painful wartime memories.
If what follows is more Mills & Boon than sturm und drang, the film’s easy charm and James’s likeable turn make amends for the glossing over of some chewy themes. The darker side of the occupation and the legacy of collaboration will wait for another film. This one is an altogether less challenging watch.