It’s London in 1939 and Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormond) has just been fired -- again -- as a governess. Worse, she’s lost the suitcase containing her worldly goods. Lacking even money for food, she desperately presents herself at the home of gorgeous young singer-actress Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams) for what she thinks is another governess position. The first assignment: Getting a boy out of bed. Only the boy in question turns out to be a 19-year-old play producer (financed by his rich father) for whom Adams had been auditioning all night. It transpires that Adams isn’t in search of a governess but a social secretary, but Miss Pettigrew quickly shows herself more than adequate at dealing with the unbroken string of crises that constitute her new employer’s life.
For example, Delysia needs to get rid of the producer because the swank apartment belongs not to her but to the owner of the nightclub where she sings, and he’s expected back in town any minute. She has a third boyfriend as well -- only three all told, she assures the disapproving Miss Pettigrew -- a young man who really loves her but isn’t rich or powerful enough to be of much practical use.
Delysia insists on getting Miss Pettigrew a quick makeover and new wardrobe with the aid of a fashion editor played by Shirley Henderson (who was also Bridget Jones’s friend Jude and Harry Potter’s ghostly acquaintance Moaning Myrtle, though unlike those other two roles this one doesn't have her weeping in the loo). Henderson’s character is out to snag a rich lingerie entrepreneur (Ciarán Hinds, who played Dumbledore’s brother in the last Harry Potter film as well as Tardos Mors in the upcoming John Carter) and demands Miss Pettigrew’s help. Another actor you might recognize is Stephanie Cole, best known as elderly and grouchy Diana Trent on the BBC comedy series Waiting for God, as the head of Miss Pettigrew’s agency.
It’s all highly implausible, with everything wrapped up too neatly and quickly to be believed. Then again, it’s not meant all that seriously to start with, though serious points are made in passing. McDermond is excellent of course, and Adams is always a delight to watch.