Based on the best-selling 2008 novel with the same elaborately unique name, this warm, charming film is a gentle tale combining community, wartime nostalgia and the power of literature - all in the picturesque setting of the idyllic Channel Islands.
Flashing backwards and forwards between World War II and present-day 1946, it follows our protagonist, touring author Juliet Ashton (another impressive performance from Cinderella and Darkest Hour’s Lily James), who’s written a letter by a member of the secret society of the title. It’s a secret, because this small population are living under the unrelenting grip of German occupation, and form the club as a way to seek solace in reading - away from the horror of war. Their story of triumph over adversity strikes a chord with reporter Juliet, who wants to write an article about them. As she delves deeper, she discovers tragic secrets which no one must ever know, as well as passions of her own…
Originally, Kenneth Branagh was set to direct this adaptation, with Kate Winslet cast in the lead role. However, this never materialised, after that version of the production stalled.
Mike Newell was hired, the veteran director behind such eclectic hits as Four Weddings, Johnny Depp gangster thriller Donnie Brasco and one of the best Harry Potter films - The Goblet Of Fire.
Some artistic liberties have been made. The letter-writing format of the novel remains only partially intact - the film it’s most reminiscent of is 2017’s Their Finest starring Gemma Arterton, another wartime-set moral-booster with a similar mixture of warmth, courage and crucially the art of correspondence - with a strong female at its centre.
There are some moments of humour, but this isn’t strictly a comedy. Although World War II is only cursorily shown, in favour of foregrounding cosiness, some moments are very moving. This is thanks to an outstanding performance from Penelope Wilton as a frosty but heartbroken widower Amelia. There’s strong support too from Tom Courtenay, and Scream Queens’ Glen Powell as an American fiancée.
Fans of the source material should enjoy it, preferably without a slice of apparently revolting Potato Peel-Pie!
Rating: * * *