Period Film: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

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Miss Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) is a somewhat frumpy, middle-aged London governess who has just lost her job. When the agency fails to help her find a new position, Miss Pettigrew takes matters into her own hands by stealing a client’s card from a desk and showing up at the client’s doorstep.

Upon arrival at what will hopefully be her new place of employment, Miss Pettigrew is surprised to find that the client is an American singer named Delysia who wants to hire a “social secretary” to help ensure that she gets the big West End stage role she’s coveting.

Torn between three men and desperately wanting to find fame, Delysia takes Miss Pettigrew on a wild ride (complete with a fancy makeover) as the threat of war looms over 1930s England.

Bharat Nalluri directs 2008’s Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, based on Winifred Watson’s 1938 novel of the same name. David Magee and Simon Beaufoy adapted the novel for the screen.

Very nice music and jaw-droppingly beautiful art direction build a wonderful atmosphere for this period piece. In general, the period is portrayed well.

There are a few inaccuracies (a song that wasn’t written until five years after the film is set, for example) but these inaccuracies are easily forgiven, made up for by more accurate references (including a mention of Olivia de Havilland!).

Makeover time! (Screen capture by TMP)

There’s even a fashion show scene included in the film, in the tradition of classic greats like The Women. All of the high glamour of an early Hollywood society drama is present here.

Accompanying all of the visual beauty is a mood very high on excitement, which makes the film a lot of fun to watch.

But it’s not all fun and games in Miss Pettigrew’s world: there is some decent social drama at play too, and some war drama mixed in for good measure.

This drama doesn’t seem out of place at all. Like Miss Pettigrew herself says (and I paraphrase), the looming prospect of war means you must live every minute fully!

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The drama grows as the film progresses, and the plot continues to complicate in the tradition of romantic films of the ’30s, which is a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t expecting this to be as classic-esque as it is.

As Delysia struggles to choose between three men, she faces the very conventional romantic film decision of money vs. love vs. a life of glamour and fame. The result is a film that is thoroughly engrossing throughout every minute of its running time.

In terms of the cast, I’m not usually a huge fan of Amy Adams, but she is wonderful in this role, perfectly embodying her lively, early 20th century socialite role. Her character is quite endearing – the type of person you’d like to hang out, possibly becoming annoyed with her indecisiveness over time but even then still endeared by her.

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Adams and McDormand play very well off of each other, with McDormand doing just as well in her somewhat rigid character as Adams does in her slightly floozy role.

The supporting cast is also wonderful, particularly Lee Pace.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a super-super-duper adorable, entertaining and enjoyable film. It’s one of the most charming American films I’ve seen in recent years, and it’s got early 20th century charm to boot, putting it on par with many of my favorite classic society dramas. The score: 4/5

Buy this film on DVD or stream it on Amazon Instant Video and a small donation will be made to TMP!

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5 thoughts on “Period Film: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

  1. silverscreenings says:

    I desperately wanted to love this movie, but didn’t. The premise is brilliant and McDormand is fabulous, as always. At some point it just fell flat. Maybe I was expecting too much. Plus, I find Amy Adams hit and miss.

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    • Lindsey says:

      I went in with quite low expectations, so I’m sure that affected my level of enjoyment! This is literally the only film I’ve been able to tolerate Adams in (though I must admit I haven’t seen too many of her films).

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      • silverscreenings says:

        Come to think of it, I don’t like Adams in very many movies at all. I think her acting range is limited. Did you see her in the recent Clint Eastwood movie about the baseball agent? She was really miscast.

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        • Lindsey says:

          I haven’t seen that one yet. I found her performances tolerable in ‘Junebug’ and ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous,’ but other than those + ‘Miss Pettigrew’ I can never completely buy her performances. (And I kind of hold a grudge against her for ‘Enchanted,’ which I found to be a terribly obnoxious film overall haha.) I was pleasantly surprised that she was more likable in this film, though I still don’t feel the need to pursue much else from her filmography.

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