Books & Books owner looks to UK for latest adaptation project


Resting in the English Channel, the small island of Guernsey is the center stage for a post-World War II love story that will be premiering on Netflix in August, the latest adaptation effort by Books & Books owner Mitchell Kaplan. 

“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Anne Barrow and Mary Ann Shaffer is the story of a 32-year-old author, Juliet Ashton, as she befriends various members of a secret society. After meeting and dating a wealthy American,  Markham V. Reynolds Jr., she begins exchanging letters with a stranger in Guernsey named Dawsey Adams.

The novel was originally written by Barrow’s aunt, Shaffer, but Shaffer became too ill to continue working on the manuscript after it was accepted for publication. Barrow finished the book for her aunt, but Shaffer never got to see the finished copy — for she passed away five month before it’s release date.

“[The novel] got optioned a week and a half before it got published,” said Barrow in a phone interview.

Kaplan said he believed that the story would work for his film company, Mazur/Kaplan Company, which focuses on bringing novels to the big screens, after he read an advance copy.

“I found that the narrative was compelling,” Kaplan said.

The film stars Lily James (Cinderella on Disney’s live action “Cinderella”) as protagonist Juliet Ashton, and Michiel Huisman (“Game of Thrones” as Daario Naharis) as the handsome Dawsey Adams.

“It’s very strange and very weird to see actual human beings saying words that were words in your own head,” said Barrow.

English movie director Mike Newell (“The Interestings”), said he was on board once he received a version of the script that truly captured the essence and beauty of the characters.

Newell felt that Thomas Bezucha was able to create a screenplay into a narrative that would work for film about a story just based on letters. In the movie, the letters are part of the narrative, but he also included a series of encounters — some awkward, some challenging or comedic — that were able to make a cohesive story viable for the big screen.

“I think the screenplay by Tom Bezucha had made a more insightful and piercing story,” said Newell. “It’s a different animal, but it absolutely tells the same story, emotions and feeling that the book.”

Barrow did not have much input on the script written by Bezucha, Kevin Hood, and Don Roos. Every now and then, she would be approached by the screenplay writers to answer some of their questions.

The film has received mixed reviews from several critics in the U.K., where it premiered theatrically on April 20, along with Australia, New Zealand, France and Germany. The film had an $11 million budget and has earned $16 million in the box office worldwide.

“This film’s semi-masticated mouthful of a title is a useful flag. Some will find the chintzy fussiness of it insufferable. To those people I say, trust your instincts. This film is not for you. Others, evidently individuals blessed with a higher tolerance of whimsy than I could ever dream of, will forgive the unwieldy word soup. But even fans of the source novel, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, might struggle with this photogenic but laboured adaptation,” said The Guardian.

One of Kaplan’s next ventures is a film adaption of “All the Bright Places” starring Elle Fanning (Princess Aurora from “Maleficent”) and Justice Smith (Franklin Webb from “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”) and directed by Brett Haley (“The Hero”).

“[The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society] possesses qualities that translate well into film: a strong female character, a romance, the love of books, all set on an exotic island during wartime,” said Kaplan.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will be able for streaming on Netflix starting August 10.