Portrayed by: Lily James
Book | Film: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’ and Netflix’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Juliet Ashton is one of the most memorable period drama females in recent years. In my book, she is up there with women like Emma Woodhouse and Elizabeth Bennet. In both the books and the film, she is an absolute delight—resourceful and compassionate, brave and self-aware, lost and trying. Juliet is layered and multi-faceted, but she’s also beautifully passionate, and so incredibly relatable.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is the story of a community—finding solace amidst darkness with those around us and learning to live in the aftermath of a war. It’s a story about friendships, and it’s the story about literature, including the fundamental and distinct relationship we all have with the stories we consume.
And our way into this society is directly through Juliet Ashton, whose journey shows us just what it means to be open, warm, and the kind of person who’s always finding means to help others.
Juliet Ashton and the Writer Within
As a writer, books and films about writers hit different. It’s hard not to see ourselves in them because so often when we fall into slumps of blocks and insecurities, characters like Juliet are who we turn to for inspiration. In the same way that books have a homing instinct about them, characters like Juliet Ashton have a way of effortlessly inspiring too.
When we first meet Juliet, she is giving a reading through her pseudonym, Izzy Bickerstaff where it becomes clear she is unsure of what she might write next and whether she actually will. The obvious block that Juliet is going through is seen through her means of dodging her publicists, and the uncertainties in her expression that Lily James laces her with.
It’s shown in the quest to find more through the society.
It’s the wandering spirit in her that felt so relatable when I first watched the film, I couldn’t help but be astonished by it. Lily James seems to be playing characters that pick up and leave their current lives behind (Donna Sheridan) for something better, and you know what? I’m here for it.
The old, (perhaps even a little lost) soul in her—the one who’s lost nearly everything and who’s searching for something more is so comforting to see. So few would respond to the kind of letter that they’d received from Dawsey Addams, but Juliet Ashton isn’t that person, the writer within her will not only write back, but she’ll go out of her way to ensure that she helps in the process.
The Stunning Resourcefulness
Juliet is someone who is always willing to help people. She isn’t someone who can let things go easily and it’s why she ultimately sets out to try to locate Elizabeth, who’s like a kindred spirit of hers in spite of the fact that they haven’t met.
Juliet will utilize all her options with utmost grace and sincerity in order to help those who don’t have the means to help themselves, and she’ll do so without expecting anything in return. When Amelia didn’t want her writing about the Society for the magazine, Juliet put that out of her mind. And when she does write their story solely because of how fascinated she is by it, she sends it to them for safe keeping. She makes Sidney promise never to publish it while promising him that that she’ll write another book now that she is overwhelmed with the inspiration to.
As someone with money and resources, Juliet isn’t interested in glitz and glamour or to reap the benefits of what she’s sewn, but she is interested in using her resources to uplift others, and it’s why the society fuels her so much.
She finds in them the comfort and solace of belonging, and she does everything in her power to ensure they find the very same thing in her presence.
For Juliet, resources are found in meaning. They are found in understanding things bigger than ourselves, and even understanding the colossal feeling of being too stunned to even write.
She is transparent in everything she does including how she comforts Kit when left alone with her. She asks questions. She seeks guidance. She searches for what she wants, and she does so with a curiosity that continues to inspire.
The Warmth and Compassion
Juliet Ashton is one of the warmest characters in film because while she isn’t afraid to stand her ground and defend the people and the causes she believes in, her kindness is so often the governing emotion. She continues to give Charlotte Stimple ample chances to be better before she finally pulls the plug and moves out after her space is invaded.
Juliet is the kind of person who’d much rather give people the benefit of the doubt than to immediately jump the gun and assume the worst about them. She didn’t understood Amelia’s hesitations towards her, but when she learned, she continued to sprinkle her kindness wherever she went instead. She didn’t push, but she tried.
She also tried potato peel pie. She listened to Isola with her heart and mind fully immersed in whatever conversations they were having. She even hated how much she knew she’d break Mark’s heart. Juliet Ashton is the kind of character who gives freely and clearly dislikes to know when she is the cause of someone’s distress—she wants to uplift, never to bring down.
In a sense, the warmth and compassion means she’s someone who wants to be married just for the sake of it. She understands that there is profound loneliness in settling and having a partner with whom there isn’t proper conversation or even silence with. And yet that doesn’t mean it’s not something she doesn’t want, but instead, she is a heroine who understands exactly what she wants, which makes it so fitting thus, that she is the one to propose.
She is a woman who understands the importance of choice, but also a woman who understands just how important it is that things be done right and properly. A book cannot be written just because there is a deadline to be met. A book must be written because there are stories to tell. And that’s part of the appeal to this story because it’s a story about the fundamental importance of telling the stories that demand to be told.
Juliet Ashton is a character who needed to be written because her story is one worth telling. The thing with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is that it’s a story that’s so magical, it feels like a story, but that is also part of the reason why it’s so inspiring.
The first time I watched the film, I wept for hours because the serendipitous way in which everything worked out is often mostly found in the magic of fiction. But that doesn’t change the fact that it has the power to evoke the very kind of hope that it always intended to with a character like Juliet serving to remind us of the fact that it’s crucial to trust our instincts.
It’s crucial to tell the stories we want to tell and to be with the people we want to be with.
She is witty and brave, but she is also a dreamer and as a character, she is the remarkable reminder of the fact that it’s okay to be that. It’s beautiful even. And in the aftermath of darkness, seeking love and community is something every human being desires.
Juliet Ashton took the leaps of faith even while people questioned her, but she did so because she trusted her heart above all else, and it has ceaselessly been proven (both in the real world and the fictional one), that trusting one’s own heart will seldom lead them in the wrong direction. It’s always the right one.
Never does looking at a piece of fiction and finding ourselves in it equate to having our head in the clouds, instead, it touches on desires we can’t quite put into words. As a character, Juliet Ashton represented the spirit of an empath with the kind of compelling warmth that reminds us of the fact that we are not alone in our thoughts and feelings because fiction is so often inspired by reality.
Fiction comes from somewhere, characters like Juliet are so often pieces of people we all know, and there’s magic in the connections we form with strangers because of this universal truth. And in the end, strangers end up being people we were meant to know all along, don’t they?