TBT: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)


I can’t believe this movie is a decade old because it feels timeless, fresh, funny, and as perfectly delightful today as when it came out! Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008) may be a throwback to 1930s screwball comedies, but it’s not hokey or arch in ways that might be off-putting in the older flicks to kids these days. The casting of deadpan Frances McDormand as social secretary Miss Pettigrew to bubbly Amy Adams, an American singer Delysia, makes for fantastic comedy over the course of this fictional wacky day. Add to it wonderful period costumes by designer Michael O’Connor, and this is a feast for the eyes too.

Set in 1939 London, the movie follows the course of one improbable and hilarious day as down-and-out Miss Pettigrew helps Delysia through one madcap adventure after another and even finds love for herself with the dashing Joe (Ciarán Hinds). Delysia starts the day practically naked and then changes clothes four times, getting more and more fabulous, so we see a great range of ’30s fashions. Miss Pettigrew starts out drab and gets a little makeover from her grateful employer, but is still appropriately subdued for her age and station.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

Beginning the day in a marabou-trimmed satin dressing gown, very pink and feminine.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

Then suiting up in this almost-prim blue dress and heart-shaped hat, as if to show her as a innocent good girl.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

Great period details with ruched sleeves and bakelite belt buckle.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)
1930s fashion plate

Similar details seen in this 1930s fashion plate.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

Shirley Henderson plays a bitchy foil, shown here running a lingerie show.

1937 girdle ad

The lingerie is fancied-up versions of what’s in this 1937 girdle advertisement.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

A little scandalous, but historically accurate!

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

Miss Pettigrew gets a spa treatment.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

And a new dress — simple in style, but with elegant touches.

1930s fashion plate

Reminiscent of the dresses in this 1930s fashion plate.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

Even her hair has been beautifully curled.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

So many hatboxes!

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

The not-so-fancy knickers.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

Time for another change of clothes — still in feminine pink, but more sophisticated with a V-neck and sparkles.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

And finally, full glam for the stage, all slinky golden goddess.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

Miss Pettigrew gets an evening gown as well, in demure blue velvet.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

Classy enough to attract Joe.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

With her love life sorted out, Delysia heads off in romantic cream with sassy stripes.

1930s advertisement

Evocative of the suits in this 1930s advertisement.


What do you love about Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

18 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    I am going to have to re-watch it, but I remember how everything flowed seamlessly into each scene. How the clothes were so right for the 1930s, from colour and how great the acting was. The clothes evoked Vionnet, Schiaparelli, and Molyneux.

  2. Nzie

    It’s just a super enjoyable watch! Beautiful to look at, a sweetly silly and engaging story.

  3. Lynelle

    I love everything about the movie and I loved the book even more! In fact, I just bought a copy of the book whilst in London and when I set it on a table later while having tea, a party at the neighboring table expressed her love for it as well.

  4. Kersten

    I made my aunt and mom take me to see this movie each individually so I saw it in theaters three times! The book is absolutely charming as well, totally a contemporary Cinderella story. (In the book Delysia is British as well.) And I know Frances McDormand isn’t British, but it says a lot that I can’t think of another British actress of a similar age who could have done a better job (although I can think of a couple who would have done as well, but differently.) She grounds the story beautifully.
    If ever I get good enough to sew velvet, I’m making myself a replica of that blue evening gown.

  5. Frannie Germeshausen

    Thanks for the reminder about this delightful movie! I need to find it and watch it again. I remember it left us feeling all happy inside.

    • Kathleen Norvell

      Yeah, gotta go along with that. After Amy Adams, he was the prettiest thing in the film.

  6. Sharon in Scotland

    I LOVE this story. BBC radio did a 5 part series of it, read divinely by Maureen Lipman ages ago and I’ve adored it since then. I treated myself to the film last month and really enjoyed it. I hoped you’d review and you did!

    • Kersten

      Thanks for the tip! I didn’t even know there was a radio adaptation so I’m going to have to find it!

  7. Black Tulip

    One of my favourite films ever! All of the extras are beautifully dressed as well, and so many fabulous hats. I’ve never been able to look a cap sleeve in the eye since I first saw it, though!

    Bonus nerd fact – ”Delysia” was a brand of artificial silk (there is an advert for it in a 1931 Weldon’s magazine), so the idea that Ms La Fosse isn’t quite all she seems is perfect.

  8. Rachel

    This is my go-to movie for those times when I’ve been sick for two days, and nothing can possibly make me feel better. Everything about this movie is so incredibly perfect!

    • Kersten

      SAME HERE. It’s a great “everything-sucks” comfort movie. Same with “I Capture the Castle” and “Cold Comfort Farm” (books and movies) for the era depicted, although those each have different tones, one more melancholy and the other more satirical. Also a similar book trilogy is the Barbara Buncle books by D.E. Stevenson, Miss Buncle’s Book being the first. Same light humor and romance.

  9. SarahV

    This movie has it all! Plus both Lee Pace AND Mark Strong, unrecognizable with hair. Such a great movie.