London in 1939 was a hodgepodge of pre-war jitters. Depression era soup kitchens operated down the block from posh nightclubs for the rich and the middle class worked to scratch out a decent living.
Miss Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand), a middle-aged spinsterish daughter of a vicar gets fired from her job as a governess. Rushing up the street with her suitcase, she bumps into a man just getting out of prison, Michael Pardue (Lee Pace). Frightened, she runs away, leaving her suitcase in the street. Standing in a soup kitchen that night, she sees fashion mogul Edythe Dubarry (Shirley Henderson) kissing someone in an alley. When Edythe sees she’s being watched, she takes her lover and leaves.
The next morning, Miss Pettigrew goes to her employment agency, but they turn her away because she’s lost every job they sent her on. She steals the business card of American nightclub singer Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams) from her agent’s desk, hoping she can arrive first and steal the job. Delysia is in a state. It’s nearly ten o’clock in the morning and she must get a producer’s son, Phil Goldman (Tom Payne) from her bed before her sugar daddy, Nick Calderelli (Mark Strong) arrives. She hopes that bedding Phil will get her the lead role in his new West End musical. She’s using him, just as she’s using nightclub owner Nick for her wardrobe and apartment.
Jumping into action as Delysia’s new social secretary, Miss Pettigrew manages to gently evict Phil and stall Nick because Delysia must attend a fashionable lingerie show. At the show, Delysia introduces her to Edythe, who doesn’t recognize her right away. She also meets lingerie designer Joe Blomfield (Ciarán Hinds) who has been engaged to Edythe. Delysia and Edythe give Miss Pettigrew a complete make-over. Recognizing her at last, Edythe blackmails Miss Pettigrew into smoothing things over with Joe, even though she had been unfaithful to him, threatening to reveal that she knows Guinevere is actually penniless.
When they get back to the apartment, Michael is there. It turns out that he is the pianist that accompanies Delysia in her nightclub act. They are in love, but Delysia persists in using the other men to further his career. Michael gives her one last chance. He has tickets on a boat to America and is leaving the next morning. He begs her to join him and take their act to Manhattan.
This is just the beginning of a rip-roaring comedy filled with delightful performances. Directed by Bharat Nalluri, the film was adapted by David Magee and Simon Beaufoy from the 1938 novel by treasured British novelist Winifred Watson. Scandalous when it was first released, the movie is quite tame by today’s standards, but still very amusing. Nalluri shows a very deft touch in the directing, mixing tracking shots with steady cam to create a beautiful and tight movie. In addition, the music is truly special, capturing the feeling of the time perfectly. The art direction is fantastic, using upscale art deco side by side with the bleak depression era streets.
Frances McDormand, is, as usual, brilliant. She remains one of our finest actresses and infuses Miss Pettigrew with both restrained priggishness and down-to-earth humanity. In spite of her upbringing, she is open to the friendship that Delysia gives to her. Amy Adams is wonderful as the flibbertygibbet Delysia and she bonds with McDormand very well. They make an amazing comedy team and yet both display great emotion with a restrained script. The two of them make the movie, but all of the male co-stars are also terrific.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a truly entertaining movie that fans of McDormand and Adams will be proud to own. It can be watched over and over with a deepening level of enjoyment. I highly recommend the film!
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