Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) is a full-blown failure as a governess - scalding the porridge, losing her young charges in local parks, etc. The nanny service refuses to recommend her so as a last resort Miss Pettigrew nips a business card off the matron's desk and presents herself at the doorway of one Delysia Lafosse (the enchanting Amy Adams).
Delysia isn't looking for a nanny per se and there's not a rugrat in sight. Instead the flighty and flirty ingénue is casting about for a proper social secretary to make sense of her hectic agenda. Miss Pettigrew to the rescue!
Delysia is being courted by not one, not two, but three men, each more in love with her than the last. And Delysia loves them back in her own inimitable style, i.e., what they can offer her; a nightclub gig from sleazy owner Nick (Mark Strong); a juicy part in a film from West End producer Phil (Tom Payne); and passion, but poverty, from handsome accompanist Michael (Lee Pace).
As Delysia flutters through things Cinderella-style, Pettigrew deftly cuts a swath through her jumbled social clutter that includes a high-end fashion show where Pettigrew meets designers du jour Edythe Dubarry and fiancé Joe (Shirley Henderson and Ciaran Hinds), squabbling talents who have a profound impact on Pettigrew's tumultuous day. Pettigrew also endures an unexpected makeover while skillfully choreographing the hazards of Elysia's romantic roundelay in a manner both madcap and merry.
London circa 1939 is not all a bed of roses. War is imminent and those of a certain age are brought too sharply back to memories of the last big skirmish; a slim narrative notion serves as a sobering contrast to its bone-dry English humor.
The farce frays a bit at the edges as it telegraphs unmistakable idealisms, a tidy set-to of boy-meets-girl and girl-reserves-the-right-to-equivocate. McDormand is spot on as the titular heroine whose witty observations on the subterfuge of love are the film's most engaging counterpoint. Adams is Adams, bemused and beguiling.
A spare little trifle, clean and sweet.