I have a weakness for period dramas, especially those that explore WWII and its repercussions. So imagine my delight at seeing a beautifully-directed film about Guernsey, set in 1946 and featuring a talented bunch of Downton Abbey actors. It’s my ideal film!
Combining my twin passions for WWII dramas and the Channel Islands, I’ve delved further into the actual locations behind this fascinating film.
Culture Against the Odds
We often forget it, but Guernsey was occupied territory during the War and this film explores the island’s unique way of fighting back against the Nazis (as a military history fan, I explored the wartime past of the island in a previous blog post). Refusing to let the Occupation stifle their community spirit, the islanders set up a book club and kept the light of culture alive. The film tells the story of Juliet, a young writer who visits the island to unravel its inspiring tale.
So, how best to follow in Juliet’s footsteps and make your own journey through this literary isle, discovering a hidden world of dedicated culture and resistance?
Harbouring Secrets: St Peter Port
Guernsey’s book club was founded by an islander named Elizabeth McKenna, whose plucky courage also conceals a darker secret (no spoilers – watch the film to find out!). During the Occupation, Elizabeth worked as a nurse at a makeshift hospital at St Peter Port, the capital of the island, whose crooked alleyways and picturesque harbour are a must-see on any visit. Sit back and watch the fishing boats twinkling in the bay or wander the avenues of the nineteenth-century Candie Gardens.
In the Shadow of War
To get a taste of what the islanders went through during the War, visit the German Occupation Museum. Prepare yourself for a step back in time. Immersive and thought-provoking, it features gun rooms, shop fronts and domestic interiors of the period, all reproduced in meticulous detail.
My favourite is the restored kitchen, showing an island family sharing a meal together in 1944. The meagre supper of fried onions, the mother watching anxiously for patrols, and the father listening to an illegal radio conjure a visceral sense of heightened tension and deprivation.
A Light in the Darkness
In a moving scene of the film, Dawsey (Juliet’s love interest on the island) takes our heroine to visit The Little Chapel, a modest place of worship painstakingly constructed by a solitary French monk, Brother Déodat.
Despite the film’s vivid reality, this has to be seen with your own eyes. Adorned with treasures gleaned from the seashore, the chapel conjures a sense of quiet dedication that may well move you to tears.
Recommended Hotel: The Bella Luce
Set in an old Norman manor house, the Bella Luce is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group, so it’s no wonder that it has an air of refined charm. Wander the walled garden, brim-full of fresh herbs and tangled flowers, or enjoy a taste of the hotel’s very own gin on the courtyard terrace.
Besides being a special hotel in its own right, Bella Luce Hotel is located in St Martin Parish, where Elizabeth, Dawsey and co. lived out their idiosyncratic resistance with such courage.