Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a rollicking adventure set in England in the days before World War Two. Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) is a governess who finds herself out of work, again. But this time the employment agency sends her away. These are tough times, work is hard to find and there is a war coming. So what to do when you find yourself homeless and penniless? Take any opportunity you can. Miss Pettigrew steals a calling card from the employment agency and appears at Delysia La Fosse’s door ready to be a governess. Delysia answers the door expecting a social secretary who will help her reach the pinnacle of fame. High jinks ensue immediately as Miss Pettigrew finally wakes up to how exciting life can be and adapts to the complicated rituals of high society.
Miss Pettigrew has frizzy hair, a brown sack of a dress that screams get me some Prozac and a very sheltered life. She grew up the daughter of a clergy man and in her words it was, “ a wonderful upbringing; a bit sheltered perhaps.” She now finds herself completely out of her element posing as Miss La Fosse’s social secretary and doing things she hadn’t dreamt of: mingling at cocktail parties, cursing, and flirting. Delysia La Fosse is an American singer/actress with fame as her primary objective. She’s making things happen for herself by entertaining three men: Phil the son of a theater producer, Nick a rich club owner, and Michael a penniless piano player. From Phil she gets the chance to be a star, Nick gives her a job as a club singer and a fabulous flat, and Michael gives her love. The trouble: an ultimatum from Michael – just him or he’s out. Suddenly Delysia must choose what she’s wiling to sacrifice for fame and manage to keep all her options open until she’s ready to say yes to just one man. Delysia and Miss Pettigrew are different as night and day and just as complimentary. Posing as Delysia’s social secretary, Miss Pettigrew is thrown into a high stakes game of love, keeping up appearances and keeping herself off the street. (Plus she gets a nice love interest)
Miss Pettigrew is a fun film that never lags and constantly keeps you rooting for our two heroines, even while they dabble in the most unladylike of behavior. Which brings up the question: should you seize the day if it requires you to be immoral? Breaking the rules seems to be part of having fun, but how far is too far? Delysia is playing with the hearts of three men and Miss Pettigrew is telling as many lies as truths. They are both posers of the highest skill, and yet we love them. Miss Pettigrew calls us to seize the day, but can you do that while still being moral, and if you can’t does the end justify the means?
Most of the immoralities committed in the film are minor. A few white lies, letting someone believe their own assumptions. I am personally guilty of that. I once lied, without even blinking about being a lesbian to get 10% off at a Target. (I’m a college student ok? Don’t judge, just send money.) Ten percent off is basically tax, and yet without even pausing, when the cashier refused to let me use my friend’s discount card because I wasn’t her family member I said , “Oh, we’re life partners.” He then looked down, swiped the card in silence and said, “Well you two look very happy together.” After we walked out of the store my friends and I erupted into peals of laughter. It felt like we had seized the day and I had enough for a cheeseburger at In-n-Out.
Ok, so maybe not the best example of seizing the day. Really more like seizing a minor discount, but still I was bold, unapologetic and got what I wanted. The point of Miss Pettigrew is not so much that you should be immoral to get what you want, but that you should be brave and trust that you are capable of making things happen for yourself. Delysia and Miss Pettigrew lose me a bit in how they choose to accomplish this. I would someday love to have a book published, but sleeping with an editor is not a viable option. Though Delysia is comfortable sacrificing all morality to get to the top Miss Pettigrew is the voice of reason telling her not to throw away love for fame.
Miss Pettigrew urges Delysia to make good choices and while she does dabble a bit in some non-approved Adventist activities (smoking, partying, and lying) she never gives us believing that true love is the most valuable thing in the world. She sticks up for what she believes in and genuinely looks out for Delysia urging her to make good choices. Although she does lie she never gives up on her highest principles. She behaves ethically (minus the posing as someone else bit of course) and with great dignity, even though she stands to loose everything she has at any moment.
Ultimately Miss Pettigrew is a coming of age/buddy story. Both Delysia and Miss Pettigrew grow in extraordinary ways. Delysia matures and is hilarious as she does it; Miss Pettigrew learns that she is valuable and capable of having a rich and happy life. After years of living a life of drab existence Miss Pettigrew is taking risks, putting herself and her heart out there and enjoying life. Extreme situations caused her to leave her comfort zone of governess-ing and drab dresses, but all that did was uncover what was there all along. In one scene Delysia says to Miss Pettigrew, “It must be extraordinary being you,” and that’s true no matter who you are. Sadly it’s something we forget all too often.
Elizabeth Rivera is a senior at Pacific Union College. This June she will be graduating with a B.A. in English and hoping that the perfect writing job will come along. In the meantime, she’s busy finishing up her first novel and writing about her thoughts on life and movies for Spectrum, Adventist Today and Creative Screenwriting.