Ciarán Hinds

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

miss pettigrew lives for a day

They don’t make ‘em like they used to but sometimes they come pretty close, and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day does its best to play up its classic screwball comedy roots in this 24 hour whirlwind of a story. Set during the eve of wartime London, the buoyant romance twirls and skips from one scene to the next thanks to a snappy script and a complementary acting duo in Frances McDormand and Amy Adams. The latter gives the film much of its levity, once again playing the part of a radiant whippersnapper who needs some gentle prodding to get her head from out of the clouds. McDormand, meanwhile, is the eponymous Miss Pettigrew, a mousy assistant who unexpectedly adventures through London’s high society.

Adapted from a 1938 novel, the film unfolds with theatrical precision. In one of the opening scenes, singer and aspiring movie star Delysia Lafosse (Adams) juggles two of her three lovers (Tom Payne and an underused Mark Strong) in one cavernous art deco flat. As she attempts to keep them from crossing paths, the perpetually unemployed Guinevere Pettigrew arrives as Delysia’s new social secretary and is unwittingly drawn in as her co-conspirator. It’s all a little Boeing-Boeing, and one can imagine the stage directions instructing actors to fly from one room to the next or shuffle half naked in and out of successive shots.

Things soon settle down but only momentarily because this quick moving farce wastes little time scooping its players up from one scene and depositing them into the next. It’s a high-end lingerie show hosted by Delysia’s friend Edythe Dubarry (the ever-steely Shirley Henderson), who is also no stranger to extra-curricular liasions which she carries on behind the back of her fiancé (Ciarán Hinds). As an alarmed Miss Pettigrew tries to extract herself from the Delysia’s topsy-turvy world, she can’t help but also be drawn in by the sudden material comforts her new position allows. An occasional patron of the local soup kitchen and a dowdy, stern nanny by trade, she tries to suppress her moral judgments about Delysia’s lavish lifestyle and adulterous entanglements and help her employer survive the day with dignity intact.

But a little discipline is exactly what the flighty girl needs and no more so than in the area of love. While Delysia tries to play two of her lovers off each another – one so she can score the leading role in a West End play and the second so she can live a life of luxury like the star she is destined to be – her true paramour is clearly the penniless piano player who can offer nothing except his music, his heart, and the dashing handsomeness of Lee Pace. It’s hard to dismiss Adams’s contribution to this film that is ostensibly about Miss Pettigrew. The actress literally glows in one point, and I am consistently surprised by how she bares her characters’ apprehensions without losing their bright-eyed innocence or joie de vivre.

This isn’t to say that Miss Pettigrew or McDormand get sidelined. Rather, the two work in harmonic tandem. In a bit of a role reversal, the titular character starts off more than a little bewildered by her sudden circumstances, unsure if she’s stumbled onto a patch of good or bad luck. It becomes clear though that she’s the only one thinking straight, and McDormand, neither too matronly nor condescending in this role, draws the movie back to reality. There is plenty of fun and frivolity, but it all happens under the long shadows of war, and there is just enough seriousness to blow away the excess froth.

“If I Didn’t Care” by Amy Adams and Lee Pace:

Released: 2008
Prod: Nellie Bellflower, Stephen Garrett
Dir: Bharat Nalluri
Writer: David Magee, Simon Beaufoy
Cast: Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Lee Pace, Ciarán Hinds, Mark Strong, Tom Payne, Shirley Henderson, Christina Cole, Stephanie Cole
Time: 91 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2015

The Nativity Story

nativity story

There are plenty of films about Christmas but surprisingly few about the Christmas story, the birth of Jesus Christ. And while The Nativity Story is not that bright, brilliant star in the night, it does adequately fill a seasonal void and add some dimension to the familiar tale. Nevertheless, it suffers at times from the overwhelming reverence that has smothered many a Biblical film.

The movie, bathed in washed out browns and olives, is dusty and dirty. The filmmakers are eager to emphasize that their Nazareth and Bethlehem are not those of brightly hued Renaissance paintings or gold embossed Christmas cards. Rather, the humble origins of the Messiah are to be found amongst the workers in the fields; this Jesus is one whose people lived in sparse, humble huts and who walked alongside beasts of burden. The earthy tones only go so far to make the story more “real” though. Even as King Herod (Ciarán Hinds) surveys the templeworks in a cloud of dust, the audience feels like it is watching a movie while wearing sunglasses.

The visual drabness of the picture is unfortunately mirrored in Keisha Castle-Hughes’s portrayal of Mary. Although her teenaged Mary laughs with friends, hustles off to sell some cheese, and is kind of peeved that her parents are marrying her off to to a vague acquaintance she has no feelings for, these moments are fleeting. More often she is ordinary to the point of dullness, passively reacting to situations rather than acting on her own. Castle-Hughes seems unsure of how to balance Mary’s youth and innocence with the popular and perhaps expected hagiographic image of her. Mary is bewildered by her miraculous pregnancy but does not convey deep concern – not for her parents, her husband, her impending motherhood, nor her own safety. She defers steadfastly to her faith in God, which is how the faithful might imagine her but which also diminishes everyone’s understanding of the mother of God (or Jesus, to avoid theological arguments).

Conversely, those around her find themselves stepping into the foreground of the nativity story. Shohreh Aghdashloo radiates maternal joy as Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, whom she visits after she discovers she is pregnant. Elizabeth is overwhelmed that she has conceived in her old age but she also shares her happiness with her young cousin, choosing trust in God over condemnation. Hiam Abbass and Shaun Toub also ground the story as Mary’s firm but loving parents, Anne and Joachim, who find their faith tested by their daughter’s news.

The emotional heart of this Christmas story, however, rests on Joseph and Oscar Isaac’s affecting portrayal of Mary’s oft ignored husband. (For what it’s worth, Joseph is my favorite saint and Oscar Isaac is one of my favorite actors. No bias.) Isaac rescues his character from the popular image of a graying, sleepy man clutching a shepherd’s staff and breathes life into the man who raised Jesus. The Bible says that Joseph was righteous, which is shown when he decides not to condemn Mary and saves her from being stoned. But Isaac reveals much about Joseph that is not written – the initial anger and confusion at his wife’s pregnancy, the subsequent excitement with which he greets his new responsibility, the tenderness with which he treats Mary when they journey to Bethlehem. One of his most moving scenes is when a heavily pregnant Mary says, over the protestations of her mother, that she will join her husband on the 100+ mile trek. Joseph tries to suppress a smile, heartened that his wife has finally warmed to him.

A few more familiar characters round out the nativity story. Ciarán Hinds dons eyeliner and permed facial hair to play the paranoid, power hungry King Herod. His murder of the innocents is the film’s starting point. Additionally, the three wise men appear not only to put the Christ child’s birth in context but also to provide the movie’s few moments of humor. Overall, the film is not a great change of pace; it hews closely to the infancy narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke while adding a few imaginative flourishes. You won’t be wrong to enjoy it during Christmastime.

Released: 2006
Prod: Toby Emmerich, Catherine Hardwicke
Dir: Catherine Hardwicke
Writer: Mike Rich
Cast: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Oscar Isaac, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Stanley Townsend, Ciarán Hinds, Shaun Toub, Hiam Abbass, Alessandro Giuggioli, Alexander Siddig
Time: 101 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2014