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Costume Drama Thursday: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Thursday, October 21, 2010

This is one of my all-time favorite romantic comedies.

Based on a 1938 Winifred Watson novel, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a colorful story about lives stalled in middle age but kick-started again by the follies of youthful lovers all around. Guinevere Pettigrew, a middle-aged London governess, finds herself unfairly dismissed from her job. An attempt to gain new employment catapults her into the glamorous world and dizzying social whirl of an American actress and singer, Delysia Lafosse. Starring Frances McDormand and Amy Adams and featuring Tom Payne, Mark Strong, Lee Pace, Shirley Henderson, and Ciarán Hinds. “Full of Art Deco trappings and paced with a vintage, screwball comedy energy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is like watching a contemporary version of a Hollywood classic.” (From IMDb and Amazon)

Within the first three minutes of this film, our main character, Miss Guinevere Pettigrew, loses her job as a “governess of last resort,” doesn’t get the week’s wages she’s owed, loses all her worldly belongings, and is denied even the most rudimentary of comforts when the bowl of soup from the soup kitchen is knocked from her hands before she can eat it.

The daughter of a vicar, who lost her one chance at marriage and security when the man she loved was killed in World War I, Miss Pettigrew has a hard time keeping a job as a governess because she wants to live by the morals with which she grew up—and holds the people she works for to the same standards (while losing a little girl in the park for six hours and inciting two little boys to attack a man because she thought he looked like a German spy). As the head of the employment agency tries to tell her,

“Our clients don’t adapt to suit your needs, Miss Pettigrew,
you adapt to them.”

Desperate for a job (and something to eat), Miss Pettigrew resorts to subterfuge and swipes the card of a client and goes to the very fancy flat on her own. There, she meets Delysia Lafosse—who, in a matter of moments, turns Miss Pettigrew’s entire world upside down. It isn’t just a mother too fond of the sherry Miss Pettigrew has to deal with now, but an aspiring actress trying to balance relationships with three different men—talk about not living up to Miss Pettigrew’s standards!

Sucked into Delysia’s world, Miss Pettigrew finds herself making excuses and alibis for Delysia so she can keep all three men ignorant of each other (as much as possible). But when Miss Pettigrew meets Michael (Lee Pace, who could have used a lot more dialect coaching for his accent), she realizes that Delysia has a chance at what she herself has lost and never hopes to find again: true love.

“I am not an expert on love. I am an expert on the lack of love, Delysia, and that is a fate from which I wish most fervently to save you.”

This is a two-strand romance: not only do we get Delysia’s exploits as she figures out which man she wants to be with, but we get the much more mature, quiet, and understated (and, for me, heart pounding) romance between Miss Pettigrew and lingerie designer Joe Bloomfield (Ciaran Hinds). Granted, I already have a soft spot for Hinds, due to his portrayal of my favorite Austen hero, Captain Frederick Wentworth, in my favorite Austen film adaptation, Persuasion 1995. Maybe it’s just another sign I’m getting older, but it was their characters’ finally finding someone they could relax and be themselves with that made the movie for me.

The late Depression-era/pre-World War II costuming is brilliant—especially the lingerie in the fashion show scene. When we first meet Guinevere Pettigrew, her physical appearance makes it obvious she hasn’t had access to disposable income for quite some time—if ever. The physical transformation that McDormand’s character makes through the film, especially in the makeover scene, is marvelous. And yet even though she goes from a duckling to a swan, who she is never changes—she only allows it to shine through for everyone else to see and love.

If you have not yet seen this film, you need to, right away! Amazon has it available on DVD for only $5.99, and it’s well worth the purchase price! And it has a fabulous soundtrack, as well.

“Might I be old-fashioned?”
“Indeed you are. And all the better for it.”

  1. Thursday, October 21, 2010 3:02 am

    I love looking at who you cast for these. I’ve never seen this movie, though. Maybe I’m nuts, but for some reason a quick look at the photos of Ciaran Hinds (particularly the dancing one) bear an odd resemblance to one of my favorite old-time actors, Christopher Plummer.


    • Thursday, October 21, 2010 6:29 pm

      Yes, except for Lee Pace (there are plenty of great British actors who would have been perfect), the casting in this movie was spot on.

      I’ve never considered a resemblance between Ciaran Hinds and Christopher Plummer. But if Ciaran Hinds can sing, he’d make a wonderful Captain von Trapp if they were to do a remake of the movie in the next two or three years.


  2. Thursday, October 21, 2010 5:40 am

    I thought this movie was endearing and really kind of like a Cinderella story. I’ll have to put it in my Netflix queue.


    • Thursday, October 21, 2010 6:30 pm

      And it’s clean. Even though we *know* Delysia is “using her feminine wiles” to get what she wants, unlike most romantic comedies, that’s not the main focus of either the story or the dialogue, which I greatly appreciate.


  3. Audry permalink
    Thursday, October 21, 2010 8:50 am

    I love this movie! And I liked Miss Pettigrew’s romance more than Delysia’s too 😀


    • Thursday, October 21, 2010 6:31 pm

      So glad I’m not the only one! I had it running while writing this post last night, and I have to say, I choked up at the ending. It gets me every time!


  4. Thursday, October 21, 2010 9:23 am

    I haven’t re-watched this movie in far too long!


    • Thursday, October 21, 2010 6:32 pm

      I’d say it’s time! (And at least this time you won’t have to sleep on my sofa afterward. ;-))


      • Thursday, October 21, 2010 7:00 pm

        HA! It had slipped my mind that the great snowstorm was preceding a viewing of this in the theater (oddly enough I clearly remember watching Gosford Park w/ you).


  5. Kav permalink
    Thursday, October 21, 2010 11:23 am

    I am such an uneducated movie bumpkin — I’ve never even heard of the movie! BUT I just checked my public library catalogue and they have it so I’ve put a hold on it!!! I’m #13 but they have four copies so that should move things along a bit. Sigh, I’m now #20 on the hold list for North & South. It’s lucky I’m patient….sometimes!!!!! LOL. Thanks for the movie recommend.


    • Thursday, October 21, 2010 6:33 pm

      I love exposing people to wonderful movies they’ve never heard of. I love it when people do that for me, too!


  6. Leslie permalink
    Thursday, October 21, 2010 5:32 pm

    I saw this movie because of your recommendation many months ago and I adored it. I’m wishing I had some disposable income – $5.99? I’d so be getting it right now! 🙂


    • Thursday, October 21, 2010 6:33 pm

      I’m feeling your pain right now about not having disposable income (and I have to drive to Louisville and back this weekend—good thing I have several packs of Ramen and cans of soup to tide me over until I get paid again!).


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