Film / Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

A 2008 film based on a 1938 book by Winifred Watson and starring Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Lee Pace Mark Strong and Ciarán Hinds. It is set in London, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, and follows a spectacular day in the life of an English nanny.

Miss Guinevere Pettigrew is a middle-aged, old-fashioned governess with a penchant for getting fired. After she is kicked out of a household for the fourth time, she is left on the streets. Her placement agency refuses to give her more work, and in desperation she steals the address of a lady who has asked the agency to "send someone over." She arrives at the flat, but soon realizes the young woman, club singer and aspiring actress Delysia Lafosse, doesn't want a nanny— she wants a social secretary.

Miss Pettigrew also discovers Delysia is romantically involved with three men: club owner Nick, her employer and owner of the flat she lives in; 19-year-old Philip, who is producing a West End play Delysia wants the lead role in; and poor pianist Michael, Delysia's accompanist and friend, who has just been released from prison and wants to marry her. As Pettigrew maneuvers through the world of London high-society, she encounters cunning boutique owner Edythe and her fiancé, the charming lingerie designer Joe Blomfield. Over the course of one whirlwind day, Miss Pettigrew helps Delysia sort out her troubled life, all while managing to solve a few problems in her own.

A lighthearted period comedy featuring great actors, sharp dialogue, and beautiful music, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a sweet little movie that manages to be romantic and comedic without being a Romantic-Comedy. Amy Adams is hilarious as Delysia, and Miss Pettigrew's gentle character development is a treat to watch.

This film provides examples of:

  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Edythe.
  • British Stuffiness: Miss Pettigrew, although it has more to do with the fact she was a vicar's daughter, and she grows out of it somewhat. Averted with most of the other British characters.
  • The Cutie: Yes, Delysia is a shameless heartbreaker and can be less than honest with her men. She is also highly charming, playful, fun-loving, sweet, and downright adorable.
  • Dance of Romance: Between Miss Pettigrew and Joe Blomfield:
    Joe: Am I making you... uncomfortable?
    Miss Pettigrew: This is the most comfortable I've been all day.
  • Development Hell: The book it was based on came out in 1938. The movie rights were sold in 1939. The movie came out in 2008.
  • The Ditz: Delysia is... not the brightest bulb.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Part of how Michael wound up in prison. The other part was drunkenly trying to get Delysia a new diamond ring from the Tower of London.
  • Extremely Short Time Span: The movie takes place over the course of a day and a half, with most of the action in the central day.
  • Fake Brit: Frances McDormand as Miss Pettigrew and Lee Pace as Michael.
  • Fashion Show: Miss Pettigrew meets Joe at one... and drops her food on his shoe.
  • Fiery Redhead: Delysia isn't hotblooded, but she is outspoken, passionate, and wild.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Delysia is introduced sleeping with one man, in the flat of another man, while being pursued for marriage by a third man. She's the heroine. (Overall, though, her promiscuity is viewed negatively, as she's doing it for selfish and manipulative reasons.)
  • Hidden Depths: Delysia seems like your typical flighty ditz, but she realizes her hold on her glamourous lifestyle is tenuous at best, and that she could lose everything and be out on the street if she says or does the wrong thing. Miss Pettigrew seems to be your average fuddy-duddy old-fashioned lady, but she was once engaged to a man who died in WWI and never quite got over it.
  • Hoist By Her Own Petard: Edythe finds Miss Pettigrew and Joe alone together, having a serious conversation. Edythe assumes that Miss P. has ratted her out to Joe, and says as much, while also telling Joe a secret that Miss P. has been trying to hide. (Miss P. and Joe were actually discussing WWI and socks.) Not only does Joe not care about Miss P.'s secret, he's happy to hear Edythe confess the truth about her behavior.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Delysia, a woman with two lovers and a further suitor, speaking on the subject of men suspecting women of having affairs to another woman with adulterous tendencies: "Men can be so untrusting! I have no idea why."
  • I Can't Dance: Miss Pettigrew tries this excuse when Joe asks her to dance. It doesn't work.
  • Invulnerable Knuckles: Lampshaded when Michael socks Nick in the jaw: "I'm a pianist, dammit! This could ruin me!"
  • The Makeover: Miss Pettigrew again, with the help of Edythe's boutique.
  • Makeover Montage: Wherein Miss Pettigrew gets a mud facial and eats the cucumbers on her eyes.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Well, Delysia is played by Amy Adams...
    • Except in her case, it's made clear that the character realizes her lifestyle is unsustainable, and that the public persona is largely a mask she uses to emotionally manipulate others. If anything, Miss Pettigrew is the character who helps others find their truest desires. Through calm, heart-to-heart discussions. The film has been called a female buddy flick for a reason.
  • Matchmaker Crush: Miss Pettigrew is blackmailed by Edythe into helping her reconcile with Joe, even though Miss P. is falling for him herself.
  • Mistaken Identity: Miss Pettigrew thinks Delysia wants a nanny for her child; when she goes to wake up Phil, she discovers he's... "rather a bigger boy than I imagined."
  • Naked in Mink / Pretty in Mink: Delysia wears a sable coat with nothing underneath, and loves the feel of fur on the skin.
  • Naked People Are Funny: When Miss Pettigrew goes to wake up young Philip, she finds Young Philip in plain view.
  • Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be: The movie is something of a pastiche of the 1930s Screwball Comedy, but it's set in 1939 and the threat of war looms over the whole piece, giving it a slightly darker angle.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Lee Pace can't quite manage to maintain a consistent English accent. Frances McDormand fares much better.
  • Penny Among Diamonds: Miss Pettigrew, a homeless nanny pretending to be a high-class social secretary
  • Princess for a Day: Miss Pettigrew.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: More Rich Suitor, Well-Connected Suitor, Poor Suitor; the choice is between club owner Nick, theatre producer Philip, and poor pianist Michael.
  • Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: Guinevere and Delysia. "You are beautiful ... "
  • Running Gag: Miss Pettigrew is forever trying to get something to eat, and failing.
  • Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl
  • Screwball Comedy: Definitely played with: the necessary stock characters from screwball are there, but they don't do what the genre calls for. At all. Though it's definitely played for laughs rather than drama.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Delysia helps Guinevere to a makeover as a thank you.
  • Shipper on Deck: Miss Pettigrew ships Michael/Delysia; in her words, "He is magnificent!"
  • Stage Names: Delysia Lafosse, glamorous American singer and actress. Her real name is Sarah Grubb.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: "If I Didn't Care"; justified because it was chosen by Michael specifically to reflect the relationship between him and Delysia.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Phil Goldman is such an Upper Class Twit, don'cherknow, that the chaps at the Drones Club would say "He's laying it on a bit thick, what?" (In fact, given his status as the Ambiguously Jewish son of a theatre producer - a very Nouveau Riche profession - it's most likely all an act.)
  • Uptight Loves Wild: This is a key point of the movie, minus the romantic angle.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Delysia pulls several in rapid succession after Phillip leaves the flat; first telling Miss Pettigrew that Nick Calderelli is a snake and that she needs rescuing, then acting upset that Nick suspects (correctly) that she's cheating on him and putting on some impressive crocodile tears, then convincing Miss Pettigrew to stay with yet another...
    Delysia: I was the desperate one. I'm always desperate. Think of what would have happened if you hadn't been here!
    Miss Pettigrew: I shudder to think what goes on when I'm not here.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Delysia realises the awfulness of jilting Michael to marry Phil for his theatre connections when Nick, of all people, expresses his admiration of her ruthlessness... and makes clear that he expects her to carry on as his lover nonetheless.