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Film / Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

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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 (Frances McDormand) 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 (Amy Adams), doesn't want a nanny— she wants a social secretary.

Miss Pettigrew also discovers Delysia is romantically involved with three men: club owner Nick (Mark Strong), her employer and owner of the flat she lives in; 19-year-old Philip (Tom Payne), who is producing a West End play Delysia wants the lead role in; and poor pianist Michael (Lee Pace), 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 (Shirley Henderson) and her fiancé, the charming lingerie designer Joe Blomfield (Ciarán Hinds). 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:

  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: The film exploits the setting of the late 1930s to mention the incoming war and put more drama.
    • Guinevere never lost a fiance in World War I;
    • Also Michael and Delysia don't leave London forever and they end up hiring Guinevere as their housekeeper.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Edythe is not an antagonist in the original novel, is not in a relationship with Joe, and didn't cheat on the man she is with. She still is the owner of a beauty salon and a friend of Delysia, and Guinevere end up befriending her and mending her relationship withe her beau Tony, who is Adapted Out instead.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: It's implied this is how Delysia ended up with Nick. She mentions wanting to break it off with him but ending up falling for his forceful nature.
  • Beauty, Brains, and Brawn: Delysia is the beauty with charm and charisma. Miss Pettigrew is the brains with a knack for reading people. Edythe is the brawn who tries to force her way.
  • Birds of a Feather: The basis for the romance between Miss Pettigrew and Joe Blomfield. They're both mature, somewhat staid, reserved old-fashioned types who are much more sensible than the high society they're surrounded by. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the understated nature of their romance makes his proposal at the end all the more heartwarming.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Edythe, though she's not very good at it. Most see through her act easily, or at least Miss Pettigrew does.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The four female characters fit this bill. Charlotte Warren is the blonde, Edythe and Miss Pettigrew are brunettes (the former is black, the latter brown) and Delysia of course is the redhead.
  • 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.
  • Buddy Picture: Female variety. Miss Pettigrew and Delysia are the main characters and the majority of the film is their friendship.
  • Casting Couch: Delysia is trying to get a part on the stage by sleeping with the producer's son. When he gives her the part, her competition Charlotte Warren makes a pass at him too.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A double whammy. In the opening, Miss Pettigrew spies Edythe kissing a man called Gerry at the soup kitchen. Edythe does not want her fiancee to find out about this, and blackmails Miss Pettigrew with the threat that she'll out her as a homeless beggar.
  • Cucumber Facial: Miss Pettigrew gets one, and this time eating the cucumbers is justified; she's starving.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Ethical Slut: Played with. Delysia is shown sympathetically for having three lovers - one of whom she's rather shamelessly seducing to further her career - but when given an ultimatum she is forced to pick just one of them.
  • 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.
  • Fanservice: Delysia gets a Bathtub Scene and afterward positions the Modesty Towel in such a way to show off some of her figure.
  • 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.
  • First-Name Basis: Delysia insists on calling Miss Pettigrew by her first name Guinevere.
  • Genki Girl: Delysia is eternally perky and bubbly and charms everyone with it.
  • Given Name Reveal: Delysia reveals that her real name is actually Sarah Grubb.
  • 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.)
  • Graceful Ladies Like Purple: When Miss Pettigrew gets her makeover, she's given a purple dress.
  • The Hecate Sisters: Delysia is the Maiden, Edythe is the Matron and Miss Pettigrew is the Crone.
  • 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 behaviour.
  • 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: Invited to dance by Joe at a jazz club, Miss Pettigrew replies that she can only dance the waltz. The band immediately starts playing a jazz song in a waltz time signature.
  • Invulnerable Knuckles: Lampshaded when Michael socks Nick in the jaw: "I'm a pianist, dammit! This could ruin me!"
  • The Lost Lenore: Male example. Miss Pettigrew laments the loss of a man she loved in the first World War.
  • 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: Inverted. While Delysia fits the character profile and does liven up Miss Pettigrew's day through her enthusiasm - it's instead Miss Pettigrew who improves other people's lives. She does so through calm heart-to-heart chats, and it's ultimately Delysia who has more character growth.
  • 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."
    Phil: "Oh, you noticed?"
  • Naked in Mink: In one scene Delysia wears a sable coat with nothing underneath.
  • Naked People Are Funny: When Miss Pettigrew goes to wake up young Philip, she finds Young Philip sleeping naked 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's English accent slips a few times, usually when he has to pronounce a word like 'last'. Frances McDormand fares much better - only slipping out of her accent when she discovers Michael in the flat.
  • Pair the Spares: It's implied that Charlotte will marry Phil, tying up that loose end.
  • Penny Among Diamonds: Miss Pettigrew, a homeless nanny pretending to be a high-class social secretary.
  • Precision F-Strike: From Miss Pettigrew's perspective. She is shocked with herself for saying "damn" during her first meeting with Nick (she's a vicar's daughter).
  • Pretty in Mink: Delysia wears a few furs, and even distracts herself mid-sentence over how she loves the feel of it against her skin.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Subverted. Edythe having a fling with Gerry while she's engaged to Joe is portrayed as wrong - as is Delysia's juggling of three men. The difference is that Delysia's is Played for Laughs, and her suitors do at least seem to know about each other.
  • 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. Technically the case for Joe, as his potential suitors are the boutique owner Edythe and the penniless Miss Pettigrew. From Phil's perspective, he also has the choice between established actress Charlotte and Delysia, who is living off Nick's charity.
  • Running Gag: Miss Pettigrew is forever trying to get something to eat, and failing.
  • 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.
  • Scenery Censor
  • 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!"
  • Sophisticated as Hell: It's Miss Pettigrew who tells Michael (excitedly!) to punch Nick in the face.
  • Stage Names: Delysia Lafosse, glamorous American singer and actress. Her real name is Sarah Grubb.
  • True Blue Femininity: The beautiful Delysia puts on a baby blue suit for her day out. The scarf she gives Miss Pettigrew - which the latter calls "the most beautiful thing I've ever owned" - is also blue.
  • 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.