Costume dramas are uncommon in the U.S. market. There are the always superb BBC dramas, but for those of us in the states who love the genre (really, could there ever be too many!?), we are asked to wait all the longer before being given opportunity to experience their latest masterpiece. In one of my Internet browsing sessions, I ran across Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day prior to its release, and needless to say I was curious. It isn’t a traditional costume film but is loads of fun and a “day” that will leave you smiling long after the closing credits.
The day starts out badly for Miss Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand)… and just gets worse. Her most recent job as a governess didn’t work out and she is thrown onto the streets by her tipsy employer without a weeks pay, leaving her destitute. Her bad luck continues when she can’t seem to find a decent meal, loses her only possessions after a run in with a young man just released from prison and the employment office won’t reconsider her for another job. Desperate, she eavesdrops on a request for what she assumes is a position as a nanny. The address leads her to the home of aspiring actress and singer Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams). Delysia, it seems is in quite a predicament. Without knowing exactly who Miss Pettigrew is, she begs her help in getting out of a dilemma. Once the crisis is passed to everyone’s satisfaction, Delysia takes Guinevere, her new social secretary on a shopping spree and she’s swept into a dizzying world of glamour, stars and love triangles.
Before I ever saw this, I wasn’t sure what to expect from it – I felt confident that I’d like it at the very least, but didn’t realize how much I’d adore it and now, several showings later, I consider it a favorite along the tradition of Importance of Being Earnest, Ideal Husband, or Miramax’s Emma. The story of a governess raised a clergyman’s daughter seems like its’ been oft-retold, but because of the infectious energy the filmmakers and stars brought to the screen it’s a genuine delight to see unfold. I was captivated by the film before ten minutes passed, and the meeting between Delysia and Guinevere was a laugh-a-minute (even though the premise is under immoral circumstances). The costumes, cinematography and props are spectacular. With the era being right before World War II, the design crew did an excellent job creating the looks that appear period authentic. The costumes were simple for Guinevere, but elegant and Delysia’s evening gown was gorgeous. The script is also well written and is filled with comic quips but also meaningful dialogue that makes its point with the audience.
This satire has all the elements that we love – comedy, drama and romance. The funny side comes greatly at Miss Adams expense and I’ve no doubt that she’ll be ridiculed for playing the stereotyped ditz, but she really brings a lot of sparkle to the role. The major dilemma in Delysia’s life is the three potential suitors – all of whom are very different, forcing her to choose between wealth… and love. (Those of us who love a happy-ever-after get one that is tied up in a pretty package.) Some dramatic effect is also thrown in with an impending war that is threatening the citizens. (A unique approach to the script is the fact that Miss Pettigrew ironically “meets” several of the characters that are about to come into her life before knowing them.)
Apart from the superb performances from the leading ladies, there are numerous other actors that deserve mention such as Ciaran Hinds (in the role of a rich business man) and all three of Delysia’s beau’s are debonair (although it is a little odd to see the kind-hearted Mark Strong from A&E’s Emma as a callous night club owner!). Understand, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is far from perfection (most especially from a moral perspective), but it’s such a comic romp through a day in the 1930’s that one can almost forget its faults. There is one subplot that is a bit trite involving a man who was in prison (the reason behind it was not very clever and should have been more realistic). Nevertheless, I found myself having loved the film and the ending is so touching that for the most part we can forgive nearly anything. It’s a day spent in London which you’ll want to revisit.
(Points of concern: Delysia sleeps with a man in order to get a part. A full shot of backside male nudity plus two more instances of nudity are present. Mild profanity and other innuendos appear. Social drinking is typical. A woman is cheating on her fiancé. The film is rated PG13.)