Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day (2008)

Rated PG-13 . Our ratings: V- 2; L- 4; S/N-1 . Running time: 1 hour 32 min.

I cry to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
He will send from heaven and save me,
he will put to shame those who trample on me.
God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.
I lie down among lions
that greedily devour human prey;
their teeth are spears and arrows,
Psalm 57:2-4

Miss Pettigrew and Delysia at an undergarment fashion show.

2008 Focus Features

Although Guinevere Pettigrew(Frances McDormand) lacks the piety of the Psalmist, she might agree with the notion that she “lie(s) down among lions” that have “teeth (that) are spears and arrows.” She has just been terminated from her position as governess by another arrogant employer. penniless because the employer had refused to giver her severance pay, she meekly stands in a soup kitchen line located in London’s theater district—and even then her bowl of soup is dashed to the pavement when a man bumps into her. Earlier she had lost her meager clothing when another man collided with her, knocking her shabby suitcase and spilling its contents over the sidewalk. Fearing the apologetic man, she had run away, leaving her belongings behind

To add to her woes the agent at the employment office was far from sympathetic. Regarding her as unemployable because of a series of run-ins with nasty women, the agent turns her away. But when the woman is called away from her desk for a moment, Miss Pettigrew snatches the telephone request the agent had just received and goes to meet the caller, who turns out to be Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams). From this rather grim beginning the film changes into one of those high society farces of the 1930’s, though an occasional newspaper headline keeps us grounded, reminding us that it is 1939 when Hitler dominated the news.

The exquisitely coiffed young (and ditsy) Delysia is an aspiring actress ensconced in the lavish digs of night club owner and show biz entrepreneur Nick (Mark Strong). The difference between Guinevere and Delysia could not be greater, with the former’s disheveled hair tied back and her shabby coat and featureless dress, whereas the former is the picture of the movie star that she aspires to become. The only thing that they have in common is their sex and literate first names. Delysia is looking for a social secretary, not because she thinks she needs one, but because it is what successful actresses have. As it turns out, she does need help, with her lover Phil (Tom Payne) half naked in the bedroom and a phone call from Nick that he is on his way to join her.

Nick is Delysia’s meal ticket and employer at his nightclub, and Michael is her hope for the future, he being the playboy son of a big time theatrical producer. Using Michael to land her a plumb role in the next production, the singer/actress hopes to return to her native America at the call of Hollywood. Miss Pettigrew soon takes the situation in hand, shooing Phil away barely in time, hastily cleaning up the debris of the lovers, and helping Delysia in her confrontation with Nick, who is talked into going away from his own apartment. The grateful Delysia insists that Guinevere accompany her to a fashion show, where Miss Pettigrew catches the eye of designer Joe (Ciaran Hinds) and the catty Edythe (Shirley Henderson), the latter being a socially conscious gold digger who had seen Guinevere in the soup kitchen line. And, to round out the picture, and show how complicated Delysia’s sex life is, there is Michael (Lee Pace), the pianist at the fashion show and who is also employed with Delysia at Nick’s nightclub. He, of course, is in love with the singer.

How Miss Pettigrew , in just a 24-hour period helps Delysia sort out her priorities and discover love herself, makes for an enjoyable Cinderella story. Other than showing the necessity of choosing the right priorities, there is little substance to this frothy but enjoyable social comedy for a group to discuss. Based on the novel by Winifred Watson, an English writer of the 1930s and 40s, the film offers an enjoyable escape for an afternoon or evening.