Based on Winifred Watson’s delightfully frank and remarkably adult novel, Bharat Nalluri’s Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day (2008) is an enchanting and lushly photographed comedy about the sacrifices women make to survive in a man’s world. There is both style and substance here, and both are on full display. The film stars Frances McDormand as the title character, a put upon common frump and penniless social outcast who finds her niche in the employ of superficial starlet, Delysia LeFosse (Amy Adams).
Seems Delysia is in a quandary over love: the career-climbing variety with Philip (Tom Payne), the wealthy, but frivolous son of a West End stage producer in London; the dangerous kind with spurious nightclub owner Nick (Mark Strong); or the genuine sort with paroled pianist, Michael (Lee Pace). Installed in Nick’s fashionable penthouse with a naked Philip in her bed and Michael soon to arrive on her stoop, Delysia mistakes Miss Pettigrew as her new social secretary, sent to her aid by the very prime Miss Holt (Stephanie Cole).
As the awkward Pettigrew finagles her way into Delysia’s life, she comes to recognize that although her charge plays the part of a devil-may-care goddess, undulating to every man’s adoration, beneath this haughty exterior is a frightened little girl who, like Pettigrew herself, is but two steps away from being a common hobo on the streets.
The film runs but a scant 1 hr. and 23min. but packs a lifetime of sentiment, heart and the joy of living into every frame. Set at the cusp of WWII, the interjection of looming conflict by screenwriters David McGee and Simon Beaufoy sets a more pressing tone not present in Watson’s original novel. Indeed, Watson’s book was first judged as not publishable for her ‘no nonsense’ approach to sex and the foibles of all male/female relationships.
These pert and crisp observations are retained for the film and used to great effect; particularly in the supporting love match between the heartless fashion snipe, Edythe (Shirley Henderson) and worldly suitor, Joe (Ciaran Hinds); a one time designer of men’s socks who has currently intruded on Edythe’s domain with his slinky take on women’s lingerie.
Watson sold the rights to her book to Universal Studios in 1939. But the onset of WWII prevented Universal from continuing with a filmic version then. Watson later re-sold the rights to Universal in 1953, but to no artistic avail; perhaps because by then the bottom had fallen out of minor romantic comedies. Thus, when producer Paul Webster approached Universal as part of a deal with Focus Films, he was promptly informed that he did not own the rights; rather that Universal did. Nevertheless, a deal was struck and production commenced. The results have been well worth the wait.
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day is a sparkling throwback to the glorious days of classic Hollywood filmmaking at its best; the rich and sumptuously inventive photography by John de Borman adding exemplar touches of ‘30s/’40s chic good taste to the proceedings and giving the eye something to ogle when perhaps the screenplay is just a bit too lax with something witty to say. This is a fun film, infused with a life affirming message in the face of certain disaster. It will likely be enjoyed for years to come.
Alliance Home Video has done a marvelous job on the DVD transfer. Despite being a flipper disc (with Side A containing a full frame version of the film and Side B being in anamorphic widescreen), the image is bright, sharp and full of eye-popping detail and invigoratingly bold colors.
Flesh tones are natural in appearance. Reds are blood red. Contrast levels are bang on with deep, velvety blacks and very bright whites. Film grain is kept to a bare minimum. Discrepancies between live action and digital effects are well blended and concealed. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and delivers quite a wallop, particularly during the nightclub sequence that round out the festivities on screen.
Side A contains a nicely put together featurette ‘Making an Unforgettable Day’, while Side B delivers the more poignant ‘Miss Pettigrew’s Long Journey To Hollywood’, with recollections from the late author’s son, plus deleted scenes and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)