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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Miss Pettigrew’ cleans period-piece house

By Rachel Adams

“Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”Keylight Entertainment GroupBased on the novel by Winifred Watson

Screenplay by David Magee and Simon BeaufoyDirected by Bharat Nalluri

Starring Francies McDormand, Amy Adams, Lee Pace and Shirley HendersonRated PG-13/92 minutesFour out of four stars

Did you think the day of the really great period piece was over?

I did.

I mean, “Pearl Harbor”? “Titanic”? Gag me on bad writing and big names. The only good stuff popping up here and there — “Capote,” “Good Night and Good Luck” and “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” — weren’t period pieces, not in the sense that I mean. They told their story, they were set believably in a different era, but they didn’t transport us to that time. They didn’t live and breathe the era.

Thankfully, the period piece isn’t dead: It is fresh and alive in “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.”

Meet Miss Pettigrew (Frances McDormand), a kind of skid-row Mary Poppins: an overworked and world-weary spinster trying to eke out a living as a governess and failing miserably. Even her employment agency wants to throw her out on the street. In desperation, she steals a business card from an agent’s desk and shows up at Delysia Lafosse’s flat, answers the phone in time to prevent another temp from reporting for duty, and prepares herself for a last ditch effort at stepping in and whipping the children into shape.

Children she finds: Spoiled, self-indulgent and hopelessly lost — children who have the means and the ability to find happiness, but chase each other around in games of lust and power instead. Miss Pettigrew’s journey begins with a naked man and some of that delicious innuendo that fills older movies, the kind that is delivered with a false innocence that makes things seem even naughtier.

She soon finds herself swept up in the crazy, glamorous life of Lafosse (Amy Adams). From the soup kitchen to the Savoy, Miss Pettigrew is a character we can all relate to. She reminds us that money isn’t everything and makes us long for an era in which we placed more value on wisdom and age than youth and beauty. Adams begins as a shrill caricature of the society girl but soon settles into something a bit more human and less painfully cute, coming into her role fully as she sings a lounge duet with the man who is hopelessly in love with her (Lee Pace). McDormand sells her vicar’s-daughter-turned-society-secretary so convincingly that I not only bought it, I went ahead and bought the whole package along with it. Lee Pace made me believe that his love could conquer all and Ciarán Hinds made me believe, against all evidence to the contrary, in love at first sight.

A good director will set the mood for the entire movie within the first few minutes. With the right touch, the opening credits can be the Shivasana to a film’s Yoga — think preparing the mind and body for the experience to come. Director Bharat Nalluri uses the opening credits to promise a movie at once believable and sophisticated, down to earth and carefully crafted. This promise was delivered with the help of a wonderful cast, excellent cinematography and costuming, witty dialogue and delivery, and perfect pacing.

Unlike “Down With Love,” a period piece which pokes fun at period pieces and the period it represents, “Miss Pettigrew” embraces its era. It yearns for the early days of motion pictures and lets us feel the love. It is everything that we love about classic film in a shiny new package. In short, “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” is timeless.

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