When good things happen to good people
MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY Directed by Bharat Nalluri. Starring Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Ciaran Hinds, Shirley Henderson, Lee Pace
release, 92 min OF ALL the adjectives that bestow faint praise, “heart-warming” is, perhaps, the most damning of the lot. “Inspirational” suggests sentimentality. Something “life-affirming” will probably make you want to kill yourself. But the last thing you need in the cinema is a warmed heart.
And yet. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, a sprightly comedy based on a durable novel by Winifred Watson, really does a fine job of making you feel good about the world – though it does certainly have its more sombre corners.
Set in London’s West End shortly before the outbreak of the second World War, Bharat
PG cert, lim Nalluri’s film, which takes place over one eventful day, finds its characters getting ready to whistle in the dark. At one stage, a party is interrupted by the noise of low- flying bombers. While walking through a posh arcade, Frances McDormand’s sat-upon governess and Amy Adams’s budding actress encounter showroom dummies wearing gas masks. But the ultimate message is that decent people can, from time to time, profit from behaving decently. That’s something worth saying.
The film begins with Miss Pettigrew (McDormand), depressed, poor and bad at her job, wangling a post as the social secretary for the noisy, flirtatious, but essentially good-hearted Delysia Lafosse (Adams). While the musical star juggles men and tries to sleep her way into a West End lead, her new factotum devises half-truths to keep one suitor away from the next. Delyssia treats Miss Petigrew to a makeover and Miss Petigrew treats Delyssia to a few bracing truths.
Nalluri, previously a director of British television, has delivered a very set-bound entertainment. Indeed, so much of the film takes place in Delysia’s apartment that one begins to think oneself watching a stage play. McDormand’s English accent wanders a bit and Shirley Henderson’s evil socialite really belongs in a bad pantomime. But the chemistry between McDormand and Adams – the former slowly ceasing to be a squashed cabbage leaf, the latter fired with the energy of a great screwball heroine – causes happy sparks to dance about the production.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is not quite life-affirming, and you wouldn’t, thank heavens, call it inspirational. But, yes, it’s certainly heart-warming.