Early in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, the title heroine played by Frances McDormand, a down-on-her luck "governess of last resort" who keeps getting dismissed by huffy high-class London employers, strolls the streets, dejected and down. On the soundtrack? A jazzy, swinging version of the Depression-era song "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" And that sweet-sour mix of bright horns and sad sentiments, swinging tempos and bleak prospects, in many ways sets the tone for the film. Adapting Winifred Watson's 1939 novel, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a nearly perfect piece of entertainment for grownups, as Miss Pettigrew's desperation inspires her to fake, fib and flail her way into a job as the social secretary to American actress/singer Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams), a young woman in severe need of professional assistance and adult supervision. It's fairly easy to predict the rough curves of Miss Pettigrew's plot within moments of meeting the leads -- Miss Pettigrew will gain joy and confidence from her exposure to Ms. Lafosse, while Ms. Lafosse will acquire wisdom and character from Miss Pettigrew's example -- but the delights of this film are in the details, and everyone involved shapes this seemingly-featherweight entertainment with expert, steady hands.

Miss Pettigrew is not, in fact, a social secretary; however, she's prepared to do whatever is required. And so, in her way, is Delysia; the luxurious flat where she receives Miss Pettigrew is, it turns out, not hers. Delysia is staying there as the lover of nightclub owner Nick (Mark Strong), which makes it all the more necessary that Miss Pettigrew help get Delysia's overnight guest Phil (Tom Payne) -- son of the producer of a show Delysia hopes to land the lead in -- out the door as swiftly as possible before Nick returns. Miss Pettigrew is mortified, but hardly paralyzed, and she swiftly takes charge of matters. And, in the tradition of British farce, as soon as that crisis is averted, another is ready to take its place. ...