Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day (2008) ***

Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr 32min
Director: Bharat Nalluri
Stars: Frances McDormand, Amy Adams
Genre: Comedy
Language: English

This time the godmother goes to the ball: a fairy-tale romp through pre-war British high life

In a Nutshell


Straight as an Arrow

Sound Quality

Easy to Hear

Who's That?

Few Main Characters

Naughty Words


Naked people




Ah, prewar England—endlessly photogenic and romantic (as Atonement has recently reminded us), and so what better time and place for a twist on the Cinderella story? That’s what we get in Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, a frothy comedy that charmingly combines two lighthearted genres, the fairy tale and the screwball comedy.

The always-capable Frances McDormand plays the title role, a serially-fired governess—she’s apparently too unconventional—reduced to dining on breadlines at the movie’s start. Desperate for work, McDormand steals info on a possible employer from an agency, and soon knocks on the door of a glamorous playgirl, portrayed with Monroe-ishly blonde breathlessness by Amy Adams (who apparently left her internal bubble machine running, after Enchanted). Does a job interview follow? No!—nothing so logical, in a movie that mostly follows the slam-bang timing of 1930s comedies. Instead, McDormand is immediately enlisted to eject a young lover from Adams’ posh flat, and does so in the nick of time—or, rather, in the time of Nick, Adams’ sugar daddy, who arrives just as the other exits.

It turns out that Adams wanted a social secretary, and the quick-thinking McDormand, despite her evident shabbiness, claims convincingly to be one. Adams, empathetic beneath that ditzy veneer, immediately takes McDormand for a complete makeover at an haute couture temple, then brings her to an equally upscale fashion show, all the while swiftly accepting her as a confidant and even a friend. As the glamorous day pinwheels along, McDormand counsels her young companion concerning the three men in Adams’ orbit. Besides that young lover, who may put Adams in a West End show, and Nick, who also owns the club where Adams sings, there’s Michael, the club’s pianist—who, McDormand perceives (and thus promotes), is the only sincere one.

Things move briskly, though neither as wittily nor as brittle-ly as in, say, a Noel Coward farce. At the center, McDormand and Adams manage the obligatory fast pace well. They also create an emotional bond, and we eventually find that Adams’ sexpot persona is only a strategy, adopted to deal with an interest she and McDormand share—avoiding starvation. This connection gives the film a real touch of heart. So does the love interest McDormand herself acquires along the way, which also adds an unusual tang to the movie’s Cinderella flavor: Yes, the older, wiser McDormand dispenses godmotherly advice—but here she’s the one who gets the new gown, and then a shot at the ball and a prince, right alongside her young protege. (There’s even a scarf, doing glass-slipper duty.)

It’s a pleasant ride; even the London interiors, of Egyptian-temple proportions, give an amusingly over-the-top performance. And those who populate them are equally competent. As the young show producer, Tom Payne teeters woozily on the brink of Bertie Wooster-dom. Mark Strong, playing the sugar-daddy club owner, is as urbanely villainesque as his pencil mustache, while Lee Pace as the mainest of Adams’ squeezes is properly tall, dark and sexy. In the plot involving McDormand’s own romance, Ciarán Hinds is a reassuringly mature partner, choosing between her and Shirley Henderson, a fine gimlet-eyed rival.

Aimed solely at providing entertainment, Miss Pettigrew lands on target as neatly, and gently, as a Velcro dart. It’s no cinematic landmark, but such landmarks (especially of late) are often heavy and somber. If you’d enjoy a skilful blend of nostalgia and charm, and a story dressed in white tie and tails—one that only tips its top hat to the real world, from a cautious distance—then you might have an excellent time watching Miss Pettigrew’s day unfold.

Brad Burg has written a #1 country hit, composed off-Broadway scores at New York’s Public Theater, and was lead vocalist and pianist in the band at Oh! Calcutta!, the 5th longest-running Broadway show. Putnam published his award-winning collection of children’s poetry, Outside The Lines: Poetry At Play (which he has adapted into a CDs of songs, among those available through his website, www.bradburg.com). He was a long-time senior editor at Medical Economics magazine, and headed Medical Software Reviews.


Rossi said on December 5, 2012


Hi Verity - I remember seneig your Persephone Reading Week and wishing I had some P books so that I could join in!! You will have to run it again??Hi savidgereads - thanks for the tip! I think it would be VERY dangerous to hit this shop on pay day!!Hi Paperback Reader - thanks for all the great suggestions (and for making sure I included a trip to this bookstore on my trip!).Hi Aimee - they are beautiful books - so simple but so lovely and elegant too.Hi Steph - I have now finished Miss Pettigrew and definitely loved it!Hi Iliana - it’s great to be back - although I am missing overseas too!!Hi Thomas - 12 books!!! That sounds awesome. You are tempting me to log on to the bookshop now…Hi Darlene - this definitely sounds like one I need to check out. Thanks!Hi Claire - the M L definitely sounds like the one I need to pick up next - everyone seems to love it.

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