Guinevere Pettigrew is having a hard time as a governess in late 1930's London. Maybe it's her unappealing appearance, maybe it's her mildly abrasive and awkward personality, but no one will keep her on, and nothing is going right for her. So when she steals a clients address and accidentally becomes the social secretary of a vibrant, up-and-coming American actress, she lets this slight increase in fortune propel her through an increasingly eventful and increasingly crazy day.
|Albeit slightly unwillingly at first.|
Based on the 1938 novel by Winifred Watson, this film plays out like a play, with its heart and wit coming from interaction and dialogue. The plot is driven by character, and all the characters have that larger-than-life vitality to them that comes so often from the stage. The excellent Frances McDormand leads the talented cast, and doesn't let anyone overshadow her, though Miss Pettigrew is that meek and invisible type of character, and is easily overshadowed within the story. I love her expressions; subtle, but extremely expressive, so we always knows what's going on in her mind, and the energy she exudes -- even as a tired and worn out character -- keeps everything effortlessly fresh and bright.
Amy Adams as Delysia, is hilarious, playing dumb, which she rarely does now, but is exceptionally good at. But Delysia is a particularly good role for her, because as the second main character, she also gets to go deep within that dumbness. Delysia is a world-wise girl, and that perceptiveness taught her to model herself as a classic empty beauty. Amy hits that balance in just the right spot. Her frienemy Edythe is played by Shirley Henderson, who if you don't recognize the name, you almost certain will the face. She makes an excellent villainess, with the striking poise of high fashion and the casual sadness of a person so steeped in their villainy that they've given up on happiness altogether, and now only live to make others just as miserable as they are.
|So makeover stories aren't strictly high school after all...|
Delysia, as an attractive and loose young lady, has three suitors to choose from. The first is Mark Strong as Nick. Nick owns the nightclub that she sings at and the apartment she lives in. He's rich, but clearly a villain. Mark Strong is of course, awesome, since he's always awesome, and without much time, makes Nick the exact stereotype you'd expect him to be. The second suitor is Phil played by Tom Payne. A smashing young man who talks like the perfect 1930's British airhead. He reminds me so much of Edmund Sparkler of Little Dorrit. His father runs the theatre that Delysia is vying for a part at. He's likable, for the most part, but certainly not the character to root for.
That honor belongs to the third man, Michael, played by Lee Pace. (Of course.) Michael is the pianist who accompanies Delysia at Nick's nightclub; practically penniless, but actually loves her enough to put up with all her wishy-washy ways. None of the male characters get a chance to rise above classic stereotypes, so Michael is the upright guy who watches the lady with melancholy and longing until his passion and devotion wins the day. And if there's no deeper twist to the character, it's at least a case of perfect casting, because no one does melancholy and passionate romance like Lee Pace. His charm and sad expressions give the character everything he needs.
|Who could resist?|
Anyway, the men are really all secondary. This story is about the two ladies, and the story could hardly be about Miss Pettigrew if while Delysia is deciding between three men she doesn't have any! The man whose eye she catches is Joe, played by Ciarán Hinds. The rich man who rules the fashion world, but hasn't been swallowed alive by it yet, and is kind and genuine and gentlemanly. He's engaged to Edythe for some strange reason, and that creates some nice drama for Miss Pettigrew. It doesn't take much to figure out where everything ends here, but the fun really is in the getting there. With all the charming characters, and an equally charming script, it would be a bigger feat if the film doesn't charm you, rather than does. The late thirties fashion is lovely and the air of the era is present and practically overflowing off the screen.
|Charming and light romance in its natural habitat.|
If I wanted to nitpick, I'd say that nothing this story does is particularly bold or extreme, and if you don't have a reason to stay you may find yourself growing bored. The actors, their characters, and the innate charm the flows through everything are the best reasons to stay, but artistically, from a film-making perspective, there's not much that stands out. However since this is the type of story that is meant to entertain, and that it does absolutely, those out to be entertained and enjoy themselves certainly should be by Miss Pettigrew's eventful, life changing day of living.