MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY **
FRANCES MCDORMAND is fabulously versatile.
She’s one of the finest character actors of her generation. She can move effortlessly between seamless portrayals of a North Dakota police officer investigating kidnapping and murder (FARGO) to a strict but loving mother of a teenage writer (ALMOST FAMOUS) to a hot, rebellious, sexually liberated record producer (LAUREL CANYON).
In the film adaptation of WINIFRED WATSON’S 1938 novel of the same name, she is GUINEVERE PETTIGREW, a drab middle aged governess whose penchant for outspokenness leaves her unable to keep a job.
Times are hard. It’s London just before the blitz. Knowing full well that her options are limited and the employment agency she’s registered with will do little to help her, she walks away with a client’s business card one day while she’s in the office.
The card in question belongs to DELYSIA LAFOSSE (nee Sarah Grubb, played by AMY ADAMS), an American singer/actor who is determined to conquer the West End before setting out for Hollywood. Therein lies the key to the most magical 24 hours of Guinevere’s existence.
She presents herself as someone sent by the agency and, as Delysia is in desperate need of a professional assistant to organize her life, she agrees to the arrangement immediately. She also orders up a new wardrobe and a complete makeover for her recently acquired employee.
Delysia is juggling three extremely attractive lovers: PHIL GOLDMAN (TOM PAYNE), the son of an important theatrical producer, NICK (MARK STRONG), the rich, influential owner of a nightclub where she performs and MICHAEL (LEE PACE), her piano accompanist and arranger.
Delysia is a liberated woman well before her time. She’s not interested in a conventional life or being tied down. Artistic success on a grand scale is her goal. She loves Michael but she’s not willing to admit it.
Not even to herself.
What she does know definitively is that he has no money or connections so his feelings for her are all he has to offer. Phil can help with her career. Nick is a ladies man who’s been around the block and knows how to please her. He’s also willing to provide her with a roof over her head.
But the bond that she has with Michael is problematic. He’s strong willed, passionate and he knows what he wants – and what he wants is HER.
He adores her but he’s hip to every little feminine wile and trick that she can dish out.
He’s not only furious with her for carrying on with two other men (as he’s well aware), but he wants her to behave, to commit to him completely and to travel to New York where they can concentrate on their mutual aspirations as musicians.
Delysia will not bend.
LEE PACE is going to be a very big star. He has the charisma and looks of a classic matinee idol. He only has a few brief scenes but he came dangerously close to stealing the picture. You can’t take your eyes off of him for a millisecond.
Even before her glamorous transformation, Guinevere ends up attracting the attention of JOE (CIARAN HINDS), a warm, charming designer of women’s undergarments. Now if only he didn’t have that on/off engagement to that ruthless social climber…
FRANCES McDORMAND is solid and very believable as the blossoming GUINEVERE. The only thing that was remotely inauthentic was her barely discernable English accent.
AMY ADAMS is quite impressive in this film. She lets you see the steely ambition and unstoppable determination under the fluffiness and dusty pink lingerie.
The production design (by the fantastic SARAH GREENWOOD) is absolutely jaw dropping. Nick’s luxurious Art Deco apartment is particularly grand. The clothes, the cars and the architecture are all flawlessly evocative. Every frame is richly detailed. But good acting from a fine cast in lovely surroundings can not make up for a cliched script and pedestrian direction.
We’ve seen these characters and this milieu many times before. Despite the positives, it’s all boringly predictable and, ultimately, completely forgettable.
Except, of course, for LEE PACE.