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28th August
written by Steph
Mind you, it's a day unlike any other... including the one described in the book!

Mind you, it's a day unlike any other... including the one described in the book!

Today Persephone Reading Week (hosted by Claire at Paperback Reader and Verity of The B Files) draws to a close.  I’m more than a bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to prepare appropriately for this joint reading experience and stock of up on some Persephone titles in advance, but I was happy to be able to at least read one book in the spirit of the week.  I’m sure it won’t be my last!  I dearly hope these two lovely ladies will host another PRW at some point in the future, as I’ll certainly be there with bells on if they do! As I had no more Persephones to actually read, I figured I could still participate in kind by watching the film version of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.  I’ve been wanting to see the movie for a while (it’s the reason I even knew the book existed), but was determined to wait until I had actually read the original source material (I’m very compulsive about this).  Now that I have, I moved Miss Pettigrew up my queue. Visually speaking, this film is incredibly sumptuous and opulent – a real feast for the eyes!  The costumes are gorgeous, and the sets aren’t too shabby either.  I really felt the filmmakers captured the lavish fairytale-like razzle dazzle of the late 1930s.  Seeing how done up the women would get (with their corsets and garters), and how dapper the gents looked in their suits, it made this viewer feel a tad like drab Miss Pettigrew, as I watched in my track pants and tank top!  Moreover, I thought the casting was really well done – Amy Adams is so charming and effervescent as Delyssia! – though I must confess Tony & I were going bonkers trying to figure out where we knew the man who played Joe Bloomfield (turns out the same actor portrayed Julius Ceasar in HBO’s Rome).  Shirley Henderson wasn’t quite as I had imagined Edythe, but then again perhaps that’s because I can never see her as anyone other than Bridget Jones’s weepy friend, Jude, or Moaning Myrtle from the Harry Potter films!  And what can you say about Frances McDormand except that I can think of no better Miss Pettigrew? Now, as to how I felt about the film, overall I liked it a good deal.  Of course, I couldn’t help myself from comparing it to the book, and while I found the movie a very good adaptation, I definitely preferred the book.  Somehow the movie failed to capture the magical and spirited element that the book conveyed so well.  We get the flustered, frantic, manic Delyssia, but I felt the spark showing how wondrous this all was for Miss Pettigrew wasn’t really there.  Two scenes that really made an impact on me when reading- when Miss Pettigrew channels Mrs. Brummegan for the first time, and when she sees the results of her makeover - feel a tad flat in the film, and I realize it’s because in the book we are given access to Miss Pettigrew’s deepest thoughts, fears, and feelings, and it’s much more difficult to convey that on film.  We don’t truly get a sense in the movie about what a big deal those two things are for her, and I think that’s a shame.  I didn't feel there was as much of a transformation throughout the film as in the book - Miss Pettigrew remains somewhat sad and aloof (and I daresay angry), even in scenes where she was at her most jubilant in the book.  I was also disappointed that to some extent, the film perverts the message of women nurturing and believing in other women (as Claire put it), especially because celluloid Edythe is far more vicious and mean than the one Watson envisioned.  Most of the other changes I could understand from the filmmakers’ perspectives in an attempt to tighten the story and add some drama here and there, keep everything lively… I suppose that even though I understand the motive (they wanted to add a true villain), I was still disappointed in this choice.  I felt like poor Edythe deserved better!   AND I was sad the taxi ride between Miss Pettigrew and Joe was removed, as you’ll recall that’s really when I came to care for the character of Miss Pettigrew in the book.  I thought that moment in the cab was such a wonderful combination of hopeful happiness and sad truths, and was quite very romantic… I sorely missed it on the screen, and I think its absence prevented their romance from really blossoming and erupting in the film.  SPOILER (highlight to read): She doesn’t even get a kiss from Joe (though she does get one from Delyssia... I told you those lesbian undercurrents were there!)!  Consider me outraged! One change I did like was the greater emphasis on the impending war, and how Miss Pettigrew and Joe bond over having survived the first war… the background seeks to keep the fairytale ever grounded in reality, which I thought was a nice way of preventing the story from whirling out of control. In the end, I do think for the most part the filmmakers were fairly true to the spirit of the novel and the movie was a delightful diversion rather than a painful punishment.  I suppose I could ding it a few points for not quite living up to the book, but I think it does do a good job telling the story in its own right.  While I do prefer the book, I did like seeing this frothy confection of Winifred Watson's come to life. Rating: 4 out of 5


  1. Fabulous review! Comprehensive and interesting. I too missed the taxi cab ride. I enjoyed how it was grounded in the social and political reality of the time; I especially liked how Miss Pettigrew’s hunger was continually evoked! Overall I preferred the book but your post has reminded me that I need to own a copy of the movie and re-watch it! Thank you so much for participating in Persephone Reading Week.

  2. 08/29/2009

    Claire, I’m glad you enjoyed the review! I forgot to mention Miss Pettigrew’s hunger, but you’re right that they make that a very striking and recurring image throughout the film… Book to movie adaptations can go so wrong, especially when a book is beloved, so I’m glad that wasn’t the case here!

  3. Meg

    I haven’t read the novel — it’s been on my mental TBR list forever! — but I did see the film a few months ago with my sister. We both loved it! Even though I wanted to slap Delyssia around a few times for her seeming fickleness, I thought the film very entertaining and lush. I found the whole history of the making of the film really interesting, too… I wound up watching the whole DVD bonus feature on that!

  4. 09/10/2009

    @ Meg: I didn’t think to watch the DVD extras! Drat! I used to be into all the DVD bonus features in a big way, but for whatever reason I’ve been more into just watching the movie and getting it back to Netflix ASAP! I think if you liked the movie then you’ll likely enjoy the book (which is well worth the read), because I felt by and large even though there were some changes to content in the film, the spirit was true to the book. And yes, it was very lush and I enjoyed the costumes a good deal (though I’m glad we no longer live in an era where corsets are de rigeur!).

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