If you’re sick of romantic comedies set in the present day, why not explore the odd period piece every now and again? While hardly Victorian in setting, ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day’ takes us back a few decades for a different look at a familiar type of story.
In a pre-World War 2 London, Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) is an unemployed governess. Her strict upbringing has left her very straight-laced and at odds with some of her less conservative employers. Needing a job, she finds the name Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams) at the employment agency and goes to her address, seeking work. Miss Lafosse is a singer/aspiring actress looking for someone who is less a governess and more of a social secretary. Miss Pettigrew is hardly qualified, but she feigns the traditional experience.
Delysia is carrying on with three men at the same time. Phil (Tom Payne) has the power to cast her in his play which is the stepping stone she needs. Nick (Mark Strong) allows her to live at his swank apartment and to earn a living singing at his club. Then there is Michael (Lee Pace) who loves her for who she is, but is a penniless pianist. He wants Delysia to marry him and go to New York where they can perform and become famous together. She simply cannot decide who she wants to be with and would love to continue down this path. Alas, choices must be made.
Miss Pettigrew may not have much, but she certainly has her wits. She helps Delysia get out of a few jams with the fellows and embarks on a whirlwind day where the frumpy old maid is completely out of her element. Fashion heavy-weight (not literally) Edythe Dubarry (Shirley Henderson) recognizes Pettigrew from her days in squalor and has the potential to expose her true background. She is/was engaged to lingerie designer Joe Blomfield (Ciaran Hinds) who takes a liking to Miss. Pettigrew.
All of this happens in the span of twenty four hours, so expect a lot of drama and hasty decisions.
While it isn’t especially laugh-out-loud funny, this is kind of a throwback to classic romantic comedies from decades long ago. Most of the humor is understated except for a handful of instances of implied (and skillfully concealed) nudity. It’s usually more interested in seeing how a poor woman doesn’t fit in among the movers and shakers of London.
The story itself is rather old-fashioned and entirely expected, that sometimes happens when you adapt old source material. It’s not fair to judge it in terms of modern conventions, because when the original novel was written, audiences weren’t as inundated with formula as they are now.
This is different in that many stories of the time because when the novel came out, most stories wouldn’t dare explore or glamorize a woman behaving as Delysia does. That’s a refreshing change.
The threat of a large-scale war hangs ominously in the background. In many ways, this story has some mildly dramatic elements. Aside from the threat of war, it isn’t anything more serious than a Jane Austen novel, but it does take on societal inequalities.
At first, Miss Pettigrew comes across as too sheltered and judgmental, but she quickly adapts to the situations without compromising her values. It’s a credit to McDormand as an actress. Adams’ character is as capricious as you can imagine. Her lack of self-esteem is the only thing that makes her manipulation forgivable. Imagine how much growth she must undergo in only one day! There is little suspense about who she will choose if you have seen or read more than two of these stories.
Special features include: commentary, deleted scenes, a making of featurette, and adapting the novel to film.
So ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day’ is a very competently told story. Its downfall is that it is structured very predictably, but a few brave choices by the story make it slightly unique. It’s not for everyone, but it is an amusing enough tale for those inclined to enjoy these types of stories.
Rated PG-13 92 minutes 2008
‘Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day’ is available to rent/purchase in Allentown, the Lehigh Valley, and beyond.