There’s an air of ‘The Sound of Music’ to this 1930s-set tale as frumpy, penniless English governess Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) enters a comically different world. Employed as social secretary for American actress Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams), her discomfort is immediately apparent.
Sheltered Miss Pettigrew is out of place in a world of Champagne-swilling, bed-hopping socialites partying merrily through the warning signs of war. But she has no choice but to roll up her sleeves and muck in, providing a welcome anchor for dizzy Delysia, whose principal problem is juggling the three different men she’s sleeping with: a young West End producer, Phil (Tom Payne), a nightclub owner, Nick (Mark Strong), and piano-playing ex-con Michael (Lee Pace).
It’s an instantly involving set-up for this adaptation of Winifred Watson’s novel. We follow Miss Pettigrew closely, sharing her fascination with Delysia’s glamorous lifestyle – and her embarrassment when she spills food on kindly fashion impresario Joe (Ciarán Hinds), the only person in this giddy social whirl who shares her memories of the First World War. Joe’s conversations with Miss Pettigrew are the film’s only serious, contemplative moments. Delysia’s dilemmas are simple: head v heart, romance v security.
This is a frothy confection, but it doesn’t only know its limitations, it revels in them. Coincidences play into Miss Pettigrew’s hands, driving the plot forward with a wink and a nod. Lee Pace is miscast as Delysia’s true love, but Adams is adorable as the wide-eyed would-be starlet, with McDormand spot-on as the sensible half of the odd couple. A delightfully frivolous screwball comedy.