Production Notes - Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
What does it take to bring together one of the film industry's most respected actresses and one of its rising stars? "A fairy tale for adults," says director Bharat Nalluri of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, which teams Frances McDormand and Amy Adams.
The Academy Award-winning McDormand says, "This is a stylish and entertaining story about making choices and living with the consequences - and right away I could clearly see myself playing the title role."
Adams, the Oscar nominee recently seen starring in the hit movie Enchanted, adds that the film "is a female-driven story that originated from a female perspective; the journey is about finding out what - and who - is right for you, what is truly best for you, and about being true to yourself even as you step outside of your comfort zone."
The film takes place in the London of 1939, as re-created by the filmmakers on location in the U.K., including at the storied Ealing Studios. As the oldest film studio site in the world, Ealing itself was a vital part of London in 1939.
Also part of the arts scene at the time was author Winifred Watson (1907-2002). First published in 1938, the novel Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was written by her. The author wrote six novels in total and "was a bit ahead of her time," says producer Stephen Garrett. "Her books were about women changing their lives, flouting convention, and addressing class tensions and extramarital sex." Her other works - more dramatic than Miss Pettigrew… - were well-reviewed and popular. But writing was phased out of her life during World War II and the concurrent and subsequent commitment to her husband and newborn son.
"My father and I tried to get her to write again, but she wouldn't," remembers her son Keith Pickering. "She told me she had written Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day in six weeks, from start to finish. She would go over dialogue in her mind while she was washing dishes, and then write after finishing the dishes. She knew it was a winner, and she was absolutely right."
Producer Nellie Bellflower, an Academy Award nominee for Finding Neverland, offers that "the power of Winifred Watson's story lies in its ability to make the reader happily believe that anything might be possible."
The novel had very nearly made it to the big screen once before; Universal Studios had optioned the successful book with plans to make it into a movie musical with a top star of the time, Billie Burke (now best-known and fondly remembered as Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz), as Miss Pettigrew. But WWII spurred Universal to make different and more serious movies, and so the tale awaited rediscovery as a viable motion picture.
In 2000, Watson herself was rediscovered by the London publishing company Persephone Books, which reprinted Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day to renewed critical praise. The Guardian asked, "Why has it taken more than half a century for this wonderful flight of humour to be rediscovered?" The Daily Mail cited the book's message "that everyone, no matter how poor or prim or neglected, has a second chance to blossom in the world." The author herself enjoyed the renewed attention, finding it all "rather nice," and citing the novel as her favorite of her works; "I always had a fondness for Miss Pettigrew…"
During the reissue/rediscovery of the novel, the U.K.-based Garrett "first came across it when I read a synopsis in The Bookseller. I then read the book and it moved me and made me laugh; I found it to be extraordinarily uplifting, completely captivating, and life-affirming.
"Miss Pettigrew embodies the dashed hopes and expectations of anyone whose life hasn't quite worked out as they might have hoped it would. Miss Pettigrew couldn't be further removed from my own life experiences, but when I finished reading her story I thought the world a better place. I wanted to make a film which could capture that spirit and have that effect on audiences."
He adds, "You realize quite quickly that this is not your average British period film. This rather prim woman with very little experience of the real world finds herself amongst a bunch of rather racy types. Over the course of the next 24 hours, she sorts out Delysia's life through sheer common sense - and, rather wonderfully, her own life gets sorted too."
Garrett optioned the film rights, and was subsequently introduced to Bellflower, who was in London for production on Finding Neverland with that film's screenwriter David Magee. While the duo would later receive Oscar nominations for the project, the producer found herself thinking even further ahead when she read Watson's book on a plane back to NYC - and quickly joined Garrett in working to bring Miss Pettigrew's tale to the screen at last.
Bellflower remarks, "I fell in love with it. This had everything you would want a story to have. I knew that David would bring a very human understanding of the characters to it, and, as with Finding Neverland, I believed that it's the kind of film that people want to see - need to see - now, given the times we live in.
"The story is a little sexy, a lot of fun, and a classic Cinderella tale - but there are two Cinderellas; Miss Pettigrew and Delysia. They cross each other's paths at a moment in time when each is open enough to move in the other's direction. Their circumstances are so different, and yet they are so much the same - we learn that they have more in common than they appear to. For the title role, I said, 'This part is for Frances McDormand.'"
Once back in New York, she gave the book to the Oscar winner's managers. Bellflower remembers, "They loved it and then Frances told me she wanted to play the role - and this was before we had a director or a script."
Screenwriter Magee laughs, "I'm not British, so I wasn't at all sure I was right for it. I kept telling Nellie I'd get around to reading the book that she'd sent over. When I did start reading it, I couldn't stop because I fell in love with Miss Pettigrew and Delysia - two incredibly resourceful women. It reminded me of the classic movies from that era, those wonderful romantic comedies where you feel for the characters but there's also an energetic pace and a lightness of spirit. I'd always wanted to be part of telling a story like that. While writing this movie, I would end a lot of days smiling."
Bellflower found the project its financing and studio partner in Focus Features. As the development process continued, Garrett's partner Paul Webster joined as executive producer, and Simon Beaufoy (an Academy Award nominee for The Full Monty) joined as screenwriter.
Garrett and Webster had worked with Bharat Nalluri on several projects, including the acclaimed miniseries Tsunami: The Aftermath and the hit caper series Hustle, which was based on an idea by the director. Therefore, Garrett notes, "Not all directors can lend their talents to any genre, but Bharat can and does."
Nalluri admits, "I was perhaps not the obvious choice for a romantic comedy. But, after Tsunami, which dealt with such pain and loss, I knew I wanted - needed - to do something that dealt with love and hope. Miss Pettigrew embodies these emotions.
"Having just gotten engaged myself, I wanted to explore love and the choices we make in terms of who we end up with, and this story does that so beautifully. The story may take place in 1939, but these are characters we can all recognize."
Bellflower says, "We met with Bharat, thinking 'This man can't possibly know much about the world in our movie.' Not only did he know everything about it, he knew what would make it more special than we had imagined."
Nalluri adds, "An underpinning to this wonderfully romantic and funny story is the fact that World War II is about to break out. That isn't really mentioned in Winfred Watson's book - seeing as it came out in 1938 - so it became important to us as subtext. The dramatic stakes are higher because of this. Life is too short, and at that time was about to become more so for too many.
"There was certainly a lot of glamour then, but there were also a lot of have-nots - and Miss Pettigrew has, as the story begins, become one of them. She has to sort out her future, quickly."
Bellflower offers, "At the base of any good comedy is something a little more serious. Our story takes place on the cusp of a time in when people - and not just in the U.K. - were unsure about their future. This gives the story an added poignancy."
That last quality is evident in Miss Guinevere Pettigrew from the first, whether in Watson's story or Magee and Beaufoy's screenplay or - most particularly - in McDormand's performance.
McDormand notes, "Reading the book, I felt that Winifred Watson was telling us about women who in fact exist."
Magee adds, "Frances knew the character, and what she wanted to do with the role. She's wonderful as Guinevere."
"There could have been no other Miss Pettigrew," says Garrett. "It was inconceivable that anyone else could have played the role. Had we lost her for any reason, the project would have collapsed. As it was, she patiently stayed the development course with us."
Beaufoy notes, "At the start of the story, Miss Pettigrew is a very shy and neglected woman, seemingly good at nothing. She lacks money, she lacks resources, and is fired from her job. Yet when she unwittingly walks into this glamorous life she has only ever seen in the movies, she finds a place for herself through an innate ability she has to make the best of whatever is around her.
"She goes from being the least important person in the room to the most important person in the room. Not through money or looks, but because she is an innately good human being. She becomes like a magnet for people - like Delysia - who realize that they have become desperate to know how to sort out their lives. Trying to make the right moral decision in a complex set of circumstances is an eternal problem for us all."
Magee elaborates, "While Delysia is willing to be whomever anyone wants her to be in order to become a star, Guinevere is willing to become what Delysia wants her to be - whether it's personal assistant or referee in her affairs - because she's horribly poor. Yet Delysia doesn't judge Guinevere based on her looks - which is how she is judged all the time. With she and Guinevere becoming friends, Delysia is able to ask herself for the first time, 'What do I really want to do with my life?' Guinevere meanwhile gains confidence, advising and supporting Delysia and realizing that there is a second act in her own life."
As part of the glamorous milieu she suddenly becomes immersed in, Miss Pettigrew finds herself in the salon of Edythe DuBarry (Shirley Henderson) and is persuaded to undergo a makeover.
"Well," admits McDormand, "At the start of the story Miss Pettigrew is dowdy, with particularly uncontrollable hair. But when the mirror turns to reveal her new look, she is still the same person, just in different clothes. She discovers that it's not about getting rid of what she was before, but about fully inhabiting who she was before - and taking control of her life over the course of a day like no other in her life."
"Frances brings an honesty and truth to the role," says Nalluri. "This in turn helps add depth to our storytelling and takes our movie to another level. Having done her homework on Miss Pettigrew for the past few years, she so completely owns the character that you would believe it was written for her by Winifred Watson."
McDormand reveals, "The one major script change I made was to get away from the idea that Miss Pettigrew's rhythm was one of reticence and shyness, and that she was incapable of finishing a sentence. My change was that she complete every sentence; Miss Pettigrew knows exactly what she thinks and what she wants to say - it's that people just don't hear her finish her sentence, because they don't realize she's there."
One who takes note of Miss Pettigrew's presence is Edythe. "She's not nice and she's quite mercenary," laughs Henderson when discussing her character. "But, you know, the 1930s were difficult for women, and she's trying to keep her head above water, so I felt sorry for her. The wealthy people who come to her salon don't like her cutting remarks, yet at the same time they kind of enjoy them. "
Bellflower marvels, "We knew Shirley was the one to play Edythe after she read four lines for us, in our first meeting with her!"
Henderson was eager to join the project. She says, "It takes place in a period when people were sharp and spoke quickly. They didn't have television, so they were good at having conversations. Playing all that is good for the brain and the mouth, working them that quick.
"Also, I knew that Frances would be playing Miss Pettigrew when I went for the audition, and she is so well-thought of among actors. Frances is down-to-earth but has gritty and vulnerable qualities as well - all perfect for Miss Pettigrew. And I found that, like her character, Frances is concerned about everybody. This movie is a comedy, but there's the underlying message of someone taking the time to genuinely help people - and therefore oneself."
Drawing not only from Watson's story but also from her own actor's instincts for a character, McDormand enumerates Miss Pettigrew's personal history; "She is a vicar's daughter and was brought up very properly. When she lost her fiancÃ© in World War I, her life just kind of stopped and she had to go on to service as a governess. She still has her clothes that she got for her trousseau with the wedding."
While McDormand was the only choice for Miss Pettigrew, the prospect of playing the second lead female role in the story - and opposite McDormand, no less - yielded no shortage of interested actors and discussion among the filmmakers. Garrett says, "Because Miss Pettigrew and Delysia are diametrically opposed to one another in terms of personality and experience and attitude to the world, the casting of Delysia was absolutely critical for that to work properly."
It was only when Amy Adams arrived for a meeting that the filmmakers sensed they had found their Delysia. Garrett says, "There is a spirit and joie de vivre to her that is unique and utterly infectious. I'm referring to not only Delysia but also Amy herself."
"First of all," marvels Nalluri, "Amy has unbeatable comic timing. She also has an extraordinary vulnerability that she brings to the screen. It's rare to find an actor who has both."
Magee adds, "She's just so exciting to watch in Enchanted. What with that and her tremendous Academy Award-nominated performance in Junebug, it's very clear that she is going to be huge."
Bellflower says, "Amy is beautiful and sexy, and also has the ability to be funny - verbally and physically - without losing any sense of innocence. What we saw in Junebug and then witnessed firsthand is that she removes any barrier between the characters she inhabits and the audience."
The same could be said of Adams' own connection to Delysia; "I responded to Delysia as soon as I read the script," she explains. "I am attracted to optimistic people and characters. Delysia is so vivacious and energetic and full of life, and she's really resourceful - which is important, because she has a lot going on that she must juggle. If she had a modern motto, it would be 'Fake it 'til you make it.'
"Knowing that Frances was going to play Miss Pettigrew - and I have always been a great admirer of her work - I was excited about what we might be able to achieve together. She turned out to be such a generous and joyful person to work with, while keeping everything professional and authentic. She mined all the humor from the script - and I tried to follow her lead, on a wing and a prayer…"
McDormand assesses, "In lesser hands, the character of Delysia would not have been as funny. Not every actor understands the rhythm of the language from that period. With all that fast talking, you cannot really improvise. Amy understood all of this, and our director did, too."
Nalluri was keen to stoke the chemistry of McDormand and Adams, "since the two characters are so very different yet come to see their similarities in terms of what they want and need out of life. I also knew that Frances and Amy together would make for a dynamic - and comedic - duo.
"At the first script reading, they were both so wonderful together that it set the whole tone for the film - and the style we shot it in. They brought the characters to life, and so I knew then even better how I was going to approach the work. When you're doing comedy, I've found it's best to set it up, give the actors a nice frame, and then let them do their work."
McDormand clarifies, "Bharat saw to it that Amy and I were in the same frame for the scenes with physical comedy. In a way, we were emulating Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance; two women moving through spaces together and dealing with situations."
Ciarán Hinds, who plays opposite McDormand as Joe, remarks, "At the end of one extraordinary day, they have impacted each other. Experiencing Miss Pettigrew's decency, Delysia realizes that she has not listened to her heart, and not gone the truer way. They both better understand what is worth chasing in life."
"Whereas Miss Pettigrew and Delysia have more screen time which tells you who they are and where they're going, the men in our picture have to make an immediate impression," explains Bellflower. "With Joe, you had to know that this is a man you can trust and who will be there for you when it's important."
Hinds says, "Joe has a collection on display at a big fashion show. When he sees Miss Pettigrew there, he sees someone who is out of her depth and that touches him. He realizes they're older than the other people there, and they establish a rapport - one that is tempered by Miss Pettigrew because she is already acquainted with his younger fiancée, Edythe. But when Joe looks into Miss Pettigrew's eyes, there's something that doesn't exist with Edythe."
The actor had the stature - both physically and as a thespian - to play Joe. Nalluri says, "Joe is enjoying his life, but he starts to realize that what he has might not be what will make him happy. When you watch a brilliant actor like CiarÃ¡n playing opposite Frances, it is absolutely magical. It takes your breath away. It was already a beautiful script, but they just upped the ante every day."
Hinds states, "Frances is a completely committed actor. She makes use of a technical approach, yet that almost gets thrown away as she gets down to work and makes it all connect."
Beaufoy remarks, "The challenge was, they only have a handful of scenes together. Fortunately, with two of the best actors you could find, every moment convinces. Unlike the other main characters, Miss Pettigrew and Joe know life - having experienced World War I - and so their interactions are more grounded."
By contrast, the three - count them, three - men in Delysia's life "give us a rollercoaster feeling of 'Who will she choose?' and make for great fun," says Nalluri.
"Each man that she's involved with is providing her with something that is vital for her survival," clarifies Adams. "But, yes, she's a rascal…"
Golden Globe Award nominee Lee Pace (star of the hit television series Pushing Daisies) plays Michael, Delysia's pianist, who envisions a future for them; Tom Payne plays Phil, the nascent producer who has more money than sense; and Mark Strong as Nick, who seems to have the strongest hold on her - not least since it is his penthouse apartment that she is living in.
Pace offers, "I see Michael as something of a bohemian; he is an artist who wears his heart on his sleeve. He truly cares about Delysia and their music. He doesn't come from money, doesn't have money, never will have money - and that doesn't matter to him. Michael has a defined objective; he wants to marry Delysia. He's ready to commit, and is focused on getting the woman he loves to marry him. So I played him more naturalistically than, say, posed and buttoned-up - although, when you're in a tuxedo and a very starched shirt and tie like in this movie, you do take yourself more seriously…
"There aren't enough films like this today, about people falling in love and making the choices about what they value in life. Also, when I heard Frances McDormand and Amy Adams were starring, I knew I had to do it. I remember watching Amy in Catch Me If You Can and wondering, 'Who is that? She's fantastic.'"
Adams, in turn, sees Pace as having "an old-fashioned leading man quality, able to convey vulnerability and tenderness in addition to a sexy masculinity. Having him to act opposite made our scenes easy."
In the crucial scene where Delysia performs in Nick's nightclub with Michael, it is Adams' voice - singing in-character - as Delysia - that audiences will hear. Pace reveals, "Amy had a ball playing Delysia; she saw the character very clearly and just went for it, all day long!"
Payne was even more thrilled to be playing Phil - because Miss Pettigrew is the actor's first movie. He marvels, "I couldn't have wished for a better cast to work with and learn from on my first film, and I trusted Bharat because I knew I could always ask him questions about what was needed in a scene.
"A conscious decision that Bharat and I discussed was my not giving Phil too much depth. If I had, Phil would appear as though he were manipulating things - when he is really more of a victim of circumstance. He's a19-year-old kid trying to be a grown-up, but he doesn't understand how the real world works, and so he gets pushed around and pulled about - although it is fun for him."
Magee offers, "Tom captures the exuberance and excitement of being a young guy who has a lot more power than assurance, and more opportunity than he knows what to do with."
Strong, whose roles have ranged from leading man to character actor, "just loved playing a bounder [i.e., shady type]! When you're the king, you don't act the king; Amy helped me there, in that she plays Delysia as bubbly and effervescent while also conveying that her character is frightened of mine.
"This script is a beautifully crafted, old-fashioned story - but one that moves quickly, with the rapid patter as in 1930s films. That's very unusual and elegant for an actor to find these days."
Nalluri notes, "That dialogue is often delivered at breakneck speed. I tried to make sure that the actors and the camera moved, too! While I didn't go back and look at any specific movies from the period, I have a lot of references and memories built into me from having seen those great pictures. But this movie had to be its own animal."
Strong clarifies, "Although you can't get seduced by the fact that it is period - since, for the characters, it's today - I was delighted that I got to talk the talk, walk the walk, and wear the clothes."
Indeed, helping all the actors get into character even before cameras started rolling was the attention to detail by costume designer Michael O'Connor and his team.
Hinds confides, "The costumes helped you hold yourself in a different way - and I'll take all the help I can get."
O'Connor remarks, "The period set the parameters for us. This story takes place in 1939. The more classic 1930s look was giving way to the 1940s look - so we veered towards that, too; shoulders were going wider, and skirts were getting shorter and fuller. Decoration-on-plain was a key thing too. It was a golden age of clothing."
Payne notes, "I'm of neither 'too big' nor 'too small' stature, which turned out to be a godsend for costuming; a lot of what I wore was original, and from the 1930s. Those costumes in my size don't get used a lot. I never wear braces and waistcoats and shoes like Phil does, so those immediately made me stand and conduct myself in a different way."
O'Connor notes, "The way the film was written, I saw each scene transition as, 'Curtain going down' and then 'Curtain coming up' - the perfect excuse for taking a bit of license. Miss Pettigrew, as the title goes, is living for and in this day, so her changes of clothing are particularly important. We fitted samples on Frances, who knew what would and wouldn't suit her character - and what would and wouldn't be too extreme in terms of the changes. For example, there was talk of making the initial costume for her particularly shabby, which we didn't do."
As a result, "I adored Miss Pettigrew's coat," says McDormand of the garment which helps define her character for the first part of the story. "It's what her shape is, and it's who she is."
O'Connor adds, "The cut of her dress is taken from about a decade before the story is set. It is a classic governess' dress with a belt, and some buttons down the back. With the two-tone fabric of the mackintosh coat, a mid-brown tone for Miss Pettigrew was created and maintained."
"The costume department was quite wonderful," raves Adams, whose character also undergoes multiple changes - costumed and otherwise - in the space of 24 hours. "They did an amazing job. Each garment was special in its details, and was made both for the characters and the actors. He let us be part of the process. So I felt at home in the costumes, even though they're so unique and so different from anything I wear in my own life."
O'Connor adds, "Delysia's colors begin with light blue and progress to pink and gold. They're bright colors, but mostly in relation to the fact that Miss Pettigrew is next to her in more subtle colors. It's comparable when contrasting Phil with Nick; we lightened Tom Payne up because he's a dandy, while Mark Strong was given hints of the gangster element.
"For those well-versed in the Hollywood style of the time, even if people were just getting out of bed, they were all done up; certainly that applies to Delysia, who is trying to look the part of the starlet the whole time."
Adams concurs, noting, "The costumes helped me discover elements of Delysia's personality; since everything matched and everything was just so, it reminded me that Delysia is trying to fit in with an elite group of people."
The group of people on the set fit in just fine with each other. Bellflower says, "Bharat's generous and gracious attitude towards his colleagues, and the relaxed atmosphere he created on the set, established an extraordinary tone for our film from the first day. There was a truly collaborative feel, with everyone sharing a common vision and belief in our project."
Hinds laughs, "Well, he convinced us he knew what he was doing...! For me, it was the rare film shoot that felt fast and light."
Garrett clarifies, "Bharat prepares very carefully for each day's shooting, and therefore can tend to everything from actors' needs to taking care of coverage. He made everyone feel that they were embarking on something special and important - and that they were important to the process."
The director admits, "I like to keep a light and generous set; what better than to encourage people to think and have ideas, whether it's the runner or the cinematographer. What I most strive for is that people enjoy working there; I believe that translates onto the screen when you're doing comedy.
"Further, I find it difficult to operate amidst cynicism. I am blessed to be directing movies for a living, so I don't understand if people come to work and are difficult. That's why I tend to surround myself with positive people, and I think that imbued itself and we had the happy set we required. The actors, in particular, helped me find the right levels and tone throughout our telling of the story."
Adams reports, "Bharat created such a great tension-free environment on the set that the crew would sing songs; usually, it's just me doing that…He allows his actors a lot of freedom, but there wasn't a lot of improvisation on this project, because the writing had such a wonderful cadence and rhythm."
McDormand says, "I'd never met or worked with any of these actors before this project; I found that every single one showed up and inhabited their characters and our story in the right way - and that's to Bharat's credit."
Strong confides, "A happy shoot does start at the top, and this was one not only because of Bharat; Frances is the antithesis of 'star behavior.' We were almost like a theater group, in that she is collaborative with everybody in the cast and crew. She doesn't disappear off to her trailer; she was always around and available."
When called to the set, Nalluri remarks, "She delivers precision acting. I merely had to place the camera on Frances and she would give me what I wanted on take 1. I would do take 2, take 3, take 4 not because I was trying to fix anything with her, but because she would then deliver the line or do the scene in different subtle ways.
"Her steadiness allowed Amy to, as Delysia, be more of a flibbertigibbet and swirl around Miss Pettigrew. So it was a beautiful contrast between these two. While we had a set route we were following with the characters, it would have been churlish of me not to give them the freedom to play. Nothing threw them; I could say, 'That lampshade over there, what can you do with that?' and they would come up with something."
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day filmed for seven weeks. The crew re-created the two contrasting worlds of late 1930s London; the near-destitute street existence that Miss Pettigrew faces at the beginning of the film, and the glamorous life that she finds herself in. The latter encompasses the narrative's progression of penthouse apartment, fashion show, styling salon, and nightclub sequences. While the actors performed in the spirit of the 1930s, Nalluri and O'Connor worked closely with cinematographer John de Borman, production designer Sarah Greenwood, and make-up & hair designer Fae Hammond to recapture the era and its elegance.
De Borman notes, "We all discussed everything in pre-production with Bharat. We decided to do the opposite of the traditional 'period look' you find in movies, by going for a lot of color. Also, we didn't over-light the scenes or soften the lenses. Photography of the period - especially by Madame Yvonne - inspired us."
"Bharat had a very strong vision of how the film should look," says Greenwood, an Academy Award nominee for Pride & Prejudice. "But he was up for our presenting ideas to him. This movie, itself a fairy tale that is touching and witty, was a designer's dream project."
Nowhere is this more evident than in Nick's penthouse apartment - which Delysia has all but claimed as her own. "It was a stunning place to hang out," laughs McDormand. "What Sarah and her team created, it's not a little one-bedroom, you know?"
The set was built at Ealing, and Greenwood rejected the expected British art deco scheme in favor of what would be Delysia's American influences; sources of reference for Greenwood and her team included the era's famed decorators Dorothy Draper and William Haines. The latter is especially renowned for the homes he did for Hollywood stars of the era.
"Sarah had an amazing amount of reference books on hand. In the 1930s, American magazines and movies really influenced the English," points out Hammond. "People went to the nth degree; Max Factor had brought to the market make-up for the average woman, who was definitely trying to look her best and emulate movie stars. Men, too, were dressed, groomed, and clipped, taking cues from Cary Grant and David Niven.
"The hairstyles were especially exciting to do. Miss Pettigrew starts out with awkward and unmanageable hair, and a weathered look. We didn't want to go too far with the character's makeover, because the point of the story isn't about someone changing themselves but rather bringing out what was always there."
McDormand elaborates, "After the makeover, she's still not what she thought she would be. I think that's true for a lot of people; they think, 'Oh if I just get my hair cut, my life would change,' or 'If I can just buy that shirt, I'll look like her.' But that's not what is going to change you, or your life.
"I found this part of the story so important, especially now, what with all the reality television makeover shows that are on. For Miss Pettigrew, everything she's been through up until this one day is an element of who she is. It's not about getting rid of what she was before; it's about fully inhabiting herself."
Even with a strong U.K. crew in place, shooting on location in London proved challenging but, as Bellflower states, "We really didn't want to take it anywhere else - and there had been talk of that - because the story is set here."
The production made certain to seek out parts of London that existed in the time period in which the story is set. However, reveals Garrett, "There is the assumption that, if you're setting a period movie in London, things couldn't be easier because there many beautiful historic places. While London is a great historical city, it is in truth now difficult to find original, authentic 1930s architecture - and when you do, it's expensive to use them.
"In general, it's hard to find any place where people aren't doing their day jobs; it's not so easy to carve out a filming schedule. All that said, our locations manager Emma Pill did not compromise, and found great spots which Sarah and her team could transform or take back in time."
Bellflower marvels, "Sarah and Emma would find things that were in-period. And when they couldn't, they would find things and see to it that they became so!"
The ballroom at London's Savoy Hotel became the site of the lingerie fashion show sequence, where Miss Pettigrew meets Joe for the first time. Greenwood laughs, "It was perfect; the ballroom itself reminded me of underwear! It has a softness, a lacy quality, and it's peachy-hued; the hotel itself is from the 1930s."
The Savoy was, in fact, named as a setting in Watson's novel. Accordingly, the hotel was highly accommodating to the production, allowing Greenwood and her team - "we've worked together on a few films and have a shorthand," she notes - to build a stage and a catwalk; hang drapes; and cater an upscale buffet.
"They did huge work on a limited budget," enthuses Hinds. "It was wonderful to play in; you don't often find yourself in rooms like this.
Adams adds, "You walked into that environment, and you were there. The Savoy was my favorite location on this movie."
Choreographer Jack Murphy, already engaged for scenes set in Nick's club the Scarlet Peacock, was further called upon to advise the on-screen fashion show's models on period-appropriate movement and body language. From main characters to models to show attendees, some seven dozen people milled about the ballroom on-screen - with O'Connor and his staff having tapped three separate costume houses in London to outfit every last member of the crowd. The lingerie for the models, however, was newly created.
"If Sarah and I and our departments hadn't communicated and shared information, it wouldn't have worked," admits O'Connor.
Nalluri marvels, "The end result was a most sumptuous and authentic setting for our fashion show. An even greater testament to Sarah and her team's amazing work was walking into [South London's] Rivoli Ballroom and believing you were in a 1930s speakeasy."
Of remaking the Rivoli into the Scarlet Peacock, Greenwood admits, "The ballroom is beautiful, and has immense character, but we needed to make it slightly more upmarket and feel more like a nightclub. It's loosely based on the café society of the time in the Café Royal. One key inspiration was to go in and hang Swarovski crystals everywhere."
Edythe's beauty salon was created at the recently closed Ravenscourt Park Hospital in West London. Greenwood explains, "The space allowed us to create something hard and brittle, contrasting with the Savoy's lingerie show - and reflecting Edythe herself - which would be intimidating in a quite different way to Miss Pettigrew than the Savoy setting is."
Other exterior locations included Fortune Theatre; Covent Garden; Borough Market and Freemasons Hall, which became the exterior and interior, respectively, of a train station; Belgrave Square; the Adelphi Building; and the William Booth Memorial College.
Garrett feels that "all these locations gave our film a sense of scale, and Bharat's direction emphasized that as well. Every street and scene felt bigger than we could have imagined."
The director notes, "At the beginning of the movie, Miss Pettigrew is a small figure in a grand landscape.
"I believe we have made sure the film's energy reflects our own. The camera moves as much as the people do - while they're saying so much dialogue at quite a pace - and London is shown off at its best."
The filmmakers also believe that they have brought Winifred Watson's original message to audiences. "My mother would have been thrilled to see the way in which her story is being presented," states Keith Pickering.
Bharat Nalluri concludes, "This film has a big heart, and I hope audiences come out of the theater smiling. It is a magical 24 hours for Miss Pettigrew, and hopefully a wonderfully entertaining 90 minutes for today's moviegoers."