Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day may well be the best screen adaptation of an Oscar Wilde play ever made, except it isn’t based on a work of Wilde’s. Pacy, witty and unremittingly charming, it is hard to imagine an audience member who wouldn’t enjoy this simple tale of love winning through in the end.
Frances McDormand is Miss Pettigrew, a governess looking for work after being fired from yet another family for being ‘difficult’. When her employment agency refuses to recommend her for a job she desperately needs simply to enable her to eat, she takes matters into her own hands and ends up ringing the bell at the home of Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams), an actress juggling the demands of three suitors and her own desire to become a star. The difficult Miss Pettigrew may just be the best thing that could happen to Delysia, who in turn may have an unexpected effect on her new ‘social secretary’.
Both Adams and McDormand nail their roles, even after initial moments of unease when McDormand is introduced for the first time with her British accent. Adams can play the naif in her sleep of course, as her acclaimed roles in Junebug and Enchanted have demonstrated, and she is hardly stretched here. Nonetheless, she has the requisite charm and instant likeability to ingratiate herself in spite of her character’s substantial flaws. McDormand is one of the better dramatic actors going around, and it’s nice to see her in a role in which she can have a little fun.
Supporting the two excellent leads, it’s brilliant to see Shirley Henderson in another film as it’s been several years since she graced Australian screens. Ciarán Hinds seems to be enjoying himself, while Lee Pace and Tom Payne have a blast as two of Delysia’s love interests.
Director Bharat Nalluri moves the film along at a brisk pace, and is surprisingly assured for someone previously best known for television series ‘Spooks’ and ‘Life on Mars’ (and as second unit director on AVP: Aliens vs. Predator and Resident Evil). He clearly has an interest in the stage as much of his action is choreographed as if for a play, and the audience delights in the staging of his scenes. Nalluri also has the common sense to know when to progress and when to linger, and the running time of just 92 minutes works strongly in the film’s favour.
Set in London just before the start of World War II and featuring scenes of air raid drills and bomber flights overhead, the film manages to remain light-hearted while still infusing the urgency felt by those old enough to remember the Great War and their personal losses. This could easily have come across as heavy-handed, but Malluri strikes just the right tone while spotlighting his characters against their background.
It’s hard to remember a recent film so simple and yet so satisfying, although this may simply come down to its overt ‘Britishness’ amidst so much Hollywood similarity. Not to be missed.Rating: