From Page to Screen: Persephone Book Adaptations

A few Persephone Books’ titles have made the leap from page to screen.

Today,  I’m sharing the three adaptations that I’ve watched, along with two other adaptations that are on my radar.




Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

Based on the novel Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

Starring: Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Ciarán Hinds, Lee Pace

IMDB Synopsis: “Guinevere Pettigrew, a middle-aged London governess, finds herself unfairly dismissed from her job. An attempt to gain new employment catapults her into the glamorous world and dizzying social whirl of an American actress and singer, Delysia Lafosse.”


Photo Credit: Focus Feature

The film version of Miss Pettigrew Lived for a Day is every bit as delightful as the book. This cinderella story was practically made to be adapted to the screen. The entire cast is phenomenal, so much so that I can no longer imagine anyone else playing these parts. Every scene drips with wit and charm.

The costumes and sets are also impeccable; the late 1930’s setting is vividly brought to life. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day manages to capture a perfect balance of optimism and anxiety over the approaching war. There are moments of levity and humour as well as moments of stark reality. In this respect, it is even more compelling than the novel.

Photo Credits: Focus Features




Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (2012)

Based on the novella Cheerful Weather for a Wedding by Julia Strachey

Starring: Felicity Jones, Luke Treadaway, Elizabeth McGovern, James Norton

IMDB Synopsis: “A young woman frets upstairs in her family’s country manor on her wedding day, fearful she’s about to marry the wrong man. Downstairs, both her fiancé and her former lover grow increasingly anxious.”

Photo Credit: IFC Films

This adaptation is a lovely way to spend an hour and a half. The film retains the play-like feel of Strachey’s novella. It’s a charming comedy of manners with an outstanding cast. Although not a lot happens, the stripped back plot really allows the actors to shine. The cinematography often steals the show as well, as there are plenty of interesting and stunning shots.

There is a full cast of characters, fast-paced dialogue, and lots of little details to keep your attention. Because of this, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is especially great on repeat viewings. A small warning however: the ending is not perfectly wrapped up and we are left to draw our own conclusions.


Photo Credits: IFC Films



The Making of a Lady (2012)

Based on the novel The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Starring: Lydia Wilson, Joanna Lumley, James D’Arcy, Linus Roache

IMDB Synopsis: “After losing her employment, Emily accepts a proposal that will give her a secure future. But she soon finds trapped in her new family’s deception.”


Photo Credits: ITV

In my opinion, this is the weakest adaptation of the three. I can recognize elements from The Making of a Marchioness, but it’s almost as if the best parts of the novel have gotten lost in translation. The acting performances are solid but the dialogue is a bit sub par and the pacing is unbalanced. The first half is much more promising than the second half.

This version amps up the melodrama and the sensational elements of the novel. It is by no means a flawless film, but it is relatively entertaining. Personally, it’s not one I will be re -watching however. I’d much rather reread Frances Hodgson Burnett’s original.


Photo Credits: ITV



They Knew Mr. Knight (1946) 

Based on the novel They Knew Mr. Knight by Dorothy Whipple

Starring Mervyn Johns, Nora Swineburne, Joyce Howard

IMDB Synopsis: “A random accident brings struggling businessman Thomas Blake into contact with Mr Knight, a successful financier. Knight encourages him to take risks with his money and his honour, and Blake discovers that all that glitters is not gold.”

Dorothy Whipple’s novels all seem like they would make wonderful, compelling adaptations. However, They Knew Mr. Knight failed to make a profit on its theatrical release, and doesn’t appear to have been very well-received. Perhaps we can cross our fingers for future adaptations of Whipple’s work instead.



Little Boy Lost (1953)

Based on the novel Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski

Starring: Bing Crosby, Claude Dauphin, Christian Fourcade

IMDB Synopsis: “A war correspondent who was stationed in Paris during WW II married a French girl who was murdered by the Nazis. After the war he returns to to try to find his son, whom he lost during a bombing raid but has been told is living in an orphanage in Paris.”

This sounds like a terrible misreading of Marghanita Laski’s beautiful, emotionally complex novel. According to the afterward in the Persephone edition- written by Anne Sebba- Laski was “furious and hurt” that her novel was turned into a musical starring Bing Crosby. If you’ve seen this, let me know. Maybe it’s not as dreadful as it sounds, but I don’t have high hopes.


Have you seen any of these adaptations? Are there other Persephone adaptations I’ve missed? 



28 thoughts on “From Page to Screen: Persephone Book Adaptations

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  1. Thanks for this! Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day is one of my “happy movies”. It’s one I save and watch on a bad day when I want to feel a bit better. The book is sitting on my shelf waiting for me to read it. I saw Cheerful Weather For The Wedding a while ago and it didn’t make a huge impression on me. I think I might appreciate it more if I watch it again after reading the book.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is one of my top comfort watches too. I hope you enjoy the book too!

      I wasn’t that impressed with Cheerful Weather for the Wedding the first time I watched it either, but I really loved it the second time around. Reading the novella helped, but I also think I was in the right mood for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A fun roundup! As for other Persephone titles, I believe there are also adaptations of They Were Sisters, The Blank Wall, and Still Missing (the film is called Without a Trace).

    I’m not a big Whipple fan but I think her melodramatic novels are the perfect things for film/tv and it would be fun to see modern adaptations. What I’d really love to see on the screen is a film version of Miss Ranskill or The Shuttle.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for posting this interesting roundup!

    I saw the movie adaptation of Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day a couple of years ago and I was really disappointed in it. I agree that the sets and costumes are lovely and that there is an optimism to the film that makes it appealing. I found more troubling the kinds of changes that were made to the script.

    As I recall, the movie version combines two women characters from the subplot into one woman in the film (the young woman ingénue character and the beauty salon owner become one rather vindictive female character). This alteration becomes problematic because it leaves the main female character without her trustworthy female companion –the beauty salon owner –and in fact undermines the notion of women supporting one another, which is one of the most delightful things about the book.

    Also the change to the young “underdog” male lead character as a scrappy American, turns the end of the movie into a Hollywood ending where the young woman strikes out for America with her young man –heading off to a “new world.” The book’s ending doesn’t abandon Miss Pettigrew, but instead incorporates her into a household in London –again, the movie ending undermines the women standing together (as they had in the book).

    Additionally the movie creates a back story for Miss Pettigrew that involves a “lost love.” One of the most charming things about the book was that Miss Pettigrew awakens to the possibility of love a bit later in her life. For me, the movie version undermined the very things that made the book so charming –the bonds between the women and the possibilities for a previously unknown happiness.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You’ve made some wonderful points about the differences between the book and the film! I have to admit that while I love the book, I do prefer the film (perhaps because I watched it first). It’s definitely not a “perfect” adaptation, but I felt it stayed true to the tone and feel of the novel. I’m sorry you were disappointed by it though! It’s the worst when an adaptation of a beloved book doesn’t live up to our expectations.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I probably happened on the movie a bit too close to reading the book, and I think at the time I was also being particularly attentive to the ways Hollywood was portraying women’s friendships!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I have seen Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day a number of times. I think it was pretty much of a ‘sleeper’ in the States, sadly, although Frances McDormand is so good.

    Now that I read ‘dfarabee’s’ comment above, I want to read the book. It sounds like the film adaptation tinkered with the story in significant ways. This makes me curious.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve only seen the first two of these and didn’t even know about the others: thanks for bringing them to my attention. Now, I need to get watching AND reading. Not at the same time, obviously.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a nice round-up – I tend to avoid films of books, but I enjoyed reading about them, and you made the Miss Pettigrew film sound quite enticing, but I’m still not sure the charcters will look and sound as I think they should.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The only film I have seen is Miss Pettigrew. Although I enjoyed it, it is very different to the book, and I felt that it changed the story, in as much as in the book Miss la Fosse had the choice of a nice man, a sexy man or a dependable man. Considering this book was published in 1938, on the brink of war, I think there was a feeling of battening down the hatches, and making safe choices in the book, which is lost in the film, which gives it a Hollywood ending instead.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a very interesting observation Michelle Ann! The film certainly doesn’t have quite that same feeling and is much more about taking risks in the face of an uncertain future. I’ve watched the movie so many times that I really need to reread the book soon!


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