Watching The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie society, you’d be forgiven for experiencing Downton Abbey flashbacks.
Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) has become the grief-stricken and suspicious Amelia; Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode) is transformed into a London literary agent; and Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) stars as the kind-hearted Elizabeth. Even the movie’s protagonist Juliet Ashton is played by a familiar Downton face: Lily James.
“That’s my rider in every contract now, there must be at least five members of the Downton Abbey cast!” James, who played Lady Rose, jokes.
Did she know from the start that this would be a big Downton reunion?
“No, I didn’t know,” the actress tells RadioTimes.com. “And it’s just wonderful because we have such an easy relationship, having worked together for so long.
“Actually I hadn’t worked with Jess before [she left in series three], but she’s just so amazing in this film and it’s so powerful, what she does. And then obviously, Penelope and Matthew; it was just brilliant.
“And Penelope as well,” she adds. “The grief that she carries in this film is so powerful and I just love working with them. It’s great.”
And then the big question: will James and her Downton pals ever reunite to bring back the much-loved ITV series? Has a production date for a movie sequel been set? Have the stars seen a script?
“I mean, who knows?” James says, with a coy smile. “I don’t really know. I’m not really the person to ask. Perhaps. Perhaps not. Who knows?”
But while rumours have swirled about the potential Downton movie ever since the final episode aired in 2015, James has been keeping busy. The 29-year-old’s recent projects include Baby Driver, Darkest Hour, the soon-to-be-released Mamma Mia sequel, and current movie The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
In her latest appearance, she stars as a young author in the aftermath of the Second World War who becomes fascinated with members of a book club on the island of Guernsey. It’s based on the much-loved 2008 novel of the same (very long) name.
“I read the script initially and just found the characters so vivid and charming, and there was such heart and such humour in this very unlikely setting,” James says.
“And then I read the book and was just so drawn in by the power of writing and language and storytelling and books. I love reading, myself, and have found at times that’s where I escape into and where I find solace – and so these characters really spoke to me.
“And I couldn’t not do it, in the end.”
The movie is set in London and in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands occupied by the Germans during World War Two. The action shifts between 1947 and the island’s wartime past.
While the majority of Guernsey’s children were evacuated at the last minute before the enemy arrived in 1940, the islanders suffered during the war and 1000 residents were deported to camps in Germany. Communication was cut off and food supplies ran low. Liberation finally came on 9th May 1945.
“I had absolutely no idea that Guernsey was occupied, so close to home, and that they were literally isolated with no contact with the outside world for so long,” James says.
“And given it’s very recent history, I couldn’t believe I didn’t know that, and I find all the stories from the war so interesting. And we need to know about it, because it’s our history.”
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will be released in cinemas on 20th April