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Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Art House & International movie directed by Bharat Nalluri

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"'This.' thought Miss Pettigrew, 'is LIFE. I have never lived before.'"

  • May 3, 2013


English writer Winifred Watson (1906 - 2002) published six novels between 1935 and 1943. MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY (1938) was her third and an instant publishing success. 


The titles of the novel's sixteen chapters are nothing beyond the mere times of parts of a work day and the following night of partying during which certain characters meet and interact, e.g.,


I                    9.15 a.m. -- 11.11 a.m.

XI                  8.28 p.m. -- 12.16 a.m.
XVI                3.47 a.m. -- ?


The novel's first words are:

9.15 a.m. -- 11.11 a.m.


MISS PETTIGREW pushed open the door of the employment agency and went in as the clock struck a quarter past nine. She had, as usual, very little hope, but today the Principal greeted her with a more cheerful smile.


'Ah! Miss Pettigrew. I think we have something for you to-day. Two came in when I had left last night. Now let me see. Ah yes! Mrs Hilary, maid. Miss LaFosse, nursery governess. Hmn! You'd have thought it  was the other way round. But there! I expect she's an aunt with an adopted orphan niece, or something.'"


Miss Pettigrew's Christian name is Guinevere as she soon explains to her young, gorgeous new best friend but not employer Miss Delysia LaFosse, born Sarah Glubb. Guinevere as soon as she walks into Delysia's flat for a job interview (which never takes place) is enlisted to hustle Elysia's lover number one, theater backer Phil out of bed and out of flat. For jealous lover number two, Nick, is back in London one day early after three weeks on the road for business. He pays Delysia's rent and hypnotizes her as a snake does a rabbit. Delysia knows he is bad and is determined to end her affair, but Nick's passionate kisses always make her change her mind. Miss Pettigrew succeeds in getting number two out of the house at least for today to give Miss LaFosse time to make up her mind to ditch Nick. 


Then Delysia tells Guinevere about lover number three, Michael. He wants to marry her, the cad! Instantly, Miss Pettigrew hates Michael. For he would no doubt tame her new beautiful friend and Delysia is definitely not one to be hemmed in. And Delysia does not want to marry anyone. It came as a shock to unsophisticated clergyman's daughter Guinevere that women might not yearn to be wed. She had thought "that only the men dreaded the altar...'I've not appreciated how my own sex has advanced'" (Ch. 2).


Suddenly Miss Pettigrew is loved, treated as a friend and equal by a glamorous, romantic singer/actress. Delysia LaFosse is kind to Guinevere (gives her drinks, lunch and invites her out) for the first time in her life.  "'This,' thought Miss Pettigrew, 'is life. I have never lived before'" (Ch. 1).

Drawing on insights from her weekly visits to the cinema and memories of tyrannical, bossy women for whom she has worked as governess, the former mouse can suddenly, quite naturally stare down and intimidate alpha males like a lion tamer.


She helps not only Delysia but the latter's well-off hair salon owner Miss Edythe Dubarry. Her two new women friends teach her the elements of style and makeup and take Guinevere with them to two important social events. For her part Miss Pettigrew advises Delysia and Edythe on elementary conventional adult sexual morality and steers them toward suitable marriage partners. 


Miss Pettigrew's reward is to be noticed and admired by a rich, world-weary man in his fifties who plans to call on her at Delysia's flat the next day.


Author Winifred Watson tells us what the new Guinevere is saying and doing while the old Miss Pettigrew wrestles in silence with her conscience on how to interact with a glittering world of sinful, erring worldlings who are nonetheless kind to her, lean on her for sensible advice and who treat her as a friend. This book is a grand literary treat.


The 1938 novel also inspired the 2008 feature film MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY, elsewhere reviewed on Lunch.com. I rate the oversimplified film as better than average, say 3.5 stars, while the novel behind the film is 4.8 stars or better. The novel's characters have more depth and are worth getting to know.



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More Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day reviews
review by . March 30, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
feels like a 1920s cocktail party (although the movie takes place in 1939). The plot follows the chance encounter of Mss. Lafosse, a rich socialite, and Miss. Pettigrew, a governess. As the two spend more time together, their worlds and moral values collide. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day has a lot of energy. The dialogue is very quick and the charleston soundtrack sets a fast tempo. For the first hour, it almost feels like I'm watching an overcaffeinated movie. Nonetheless, Miss Pettigrew Lives …
review by . November 12, 2009
It's taken over 65 years for Winifred Watson's novel, MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY, to get to the movie screen, but it's been well worth the wait.    London is on the brink of World War 2, and times are tough; but things look particularly grim for one Miss Pettigrew (Frances McDormand). She's a children's nanny who can't seem to find her niche, instead living a desperate hand-to-mouth existance in the slums and soup-kitchens of the city; but everything turns around when she …
review by . June 06, 2009
Love and life have bypassed middle-aged Guinevere Pettigrew, who is the quintessential English governess, newly unemployed. Beautiful but ditsy American singer Delysia Lafosse is doing her utmost to land a plum role on the London stage. When Guinevere approaches Delysia in hopes of a job, opposites attract, and it isn't long before Guinevere sets her mind to helping her find true happiness. And to eating as much as she possibly can before this bubble bursts.    Miss Pettigrew …
review by . November 20, 2008
Over the years I've seen many film reviews that will label something as "frothy" or even a "frothy confection." This description never really spoke to me...but the other day, I watched MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY, and nothing could describe it better than a "frothy confection."     It's frothy because it's almost lighter than air. A lot of energy went into whipping it into something substantial...but the slightest pressure will deflate the integrity. It's a concoction because …
review by . October 14, 2008
I like quirky and slow moving films that are full of characters and creative elements. I liked Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day because that's exactly what kind of movie it is.    Miss Pettigrew, (McDormand) in a desperate attempt to stay off the streets hijacks an opportunity to become a social secretary for a very flaky and lost Delysia (Adams). Delysia, in an attempt to grasp stardom has scrambled and manipulated her way into a messy love quadrangle -- 3 guys with expectations. …
review by . August 23, 2008
One would think pairing Frances McDormand and Amy Adams for `Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' would be irresistible. Adams stars as Delysia LaFosse, a hyperventilating American starlet living in England just before World War II. Here she reminds us of the charm she gave so easily in 'Junebug' and 'Enchanted (Full Screen Edition)'. McDormand, whose acting dexterity is only rivaled by the likes of Meryl Streep, gave us a flawless Minnesotan accent to go with a perfect performance in 'Fargo' and a Southern …
review by . August 23, 2008
The lead-in cinematic and musical elements for this delightfully entertaining, fast paced, little bit of nostalgia film prepares the viewer for the story as well as any 'overture' could. The setting is London in the 1930s, the day of the first blitzkrieg, and the tone of the imagery is that quiet depression and angst that tainted the world during that time. We meet our main character Miss Guinevere Pettigrew, a dowdy, middle-aged failed governess as she wanders through the streets and soup kitchens …
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(Thomas) Patrick Killough ()
Ranked #96
I am a retired American diplomat. Married for 47 years. My wife Mary (PhD in German and Linguistics) and I have two sons, six grandsons and two granddaughters. Our home is Highland Farms Retirement Community … more
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Based on a 1938 Winifred Watson novel,Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Dayis a colorful story about lives stalled in middle age but kick-started again by the follies of youthful lovers all around. Frances McDormand stars as Miss Pettigrew, whose inability to hold a job in London as a governess compromises her well-being shortly before England’s entry in World War II. Finessing her way into a position as social secretary to a young, American golddigger and singer named Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams), the starving Miss Pettigrew finds herself at the center of a whirlwind that is her new employer’s life. Hemmed in by lovers and suitors--including a young, theatrical producer (Tom Payne) looking to cast one of his pleasing girlfriends in a plum role; a creepy nightclub owner (Mark Strong) in whose flat Delysia lives; and a pianist (Lee Pace) who genuinely loves her--Delysia needs a map to figure out how to navigate through life. Miss Pettigrew, who suffered a loss during WWI that she does not speak of, nudges the naïve songstress toward wise decisions. But she is at the mercy of Delysia’s formidable friend (Shirley Henderson), who knows the truth about her impoverished state and is engaged to a much older man (Ciarán Hinds). The latter, a fellow of substance who seems to be meandering through life, falls instantly for the soulful Miss Pettigrew. Full of Art Deco trappings and paced with a vintage, screwball comedy energy,Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Dayis like ...
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Director: Bharat Nalluri
Genre: Comedy
Release Date: March 7, 2008
Screen Writer: Simon Beaufoy, David Magee
DVD Release Date: August 19, 2008
Runtime: 92 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios
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