—2. Cast and Crew
—3. Photo Pages
—4. Trailers, Clips, DVDs, Books, Soundtrack
—5. Posters(Emma Thompson)
—6. Production Notes (pdf)
—7. Spiritual Connections
—8. Presentation Downloads
One of the underlying themes of Nanny 911, Super Nanny and other reality TV shows that touch on parenting is that the children’s misbehavior is almost always rooted in the neglect of parental responsibility. The kids’ behavior changes in the end because the parents have needed to learn the primary lesson.
Nanny McPhee, a delightful and charming new family film, picks up on similar themes as we are introduced to the seven ill-mannered Brown children. Since the death of their mother, they have managed to scare off 17 nannies with their calculated and ruthless behavior.
Cedric Brown (Colin Firth) is the widowed father of the brood, who works in a mortuary and only is able to maintain his family’s standard of living because of the conditional benevolence of the domineering Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury). She privately has insisted that she will cut the family off from all support if Brown doesn’t remarry within 30 days. Faced with debtors prison for himself and more dire consequences for his children, Brown’s desperation to keep his family together leads him to dig up the name of a widow he might marry.
Although he has not told his children of these prospects, they have figured it out, and it is at the root of their behavior. “There is not one single story ever of a stepmother who isn’t evil,” says the oldest boy and ringleader Simon (Thomas Sangster, in an excellent performance). “Who likes other people’s children?”
But under the family’s very noses is the kind, beautiful and sensitive scullery maid, Evangeline (Kelly Macdonald). She understands what’s behind the children’s behavior and secret cares deeply for them and their father. He, nevertheless, continues to seek solace in conversations with an empty chair that once was occupied by his wife.
Just as with the problems faced by families on nanny reality TV, the solution seems plain as the nose on your face. But the loss of the last nanny the agency will provide seems to have blinded the Browns to the answer. Enter Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) with a bulbous nose they couldn’t miss. With a unibrow, two hairy warts, enormous ear lobes and a single tooth that protrudes over her lower lip, she’s no Mary Poppins. But then again, the Brown children, whose previous ruses include pretending to eat their baby sister, are no Jane and Michael Banks, either.
Nanny McPhee is a darker, tough-love Mary Poppins, a more mysterious sort whose magic has a way of accentuating the dire consequences in the bad choices the children make. With her enchanted branch-like walking stick, Nanny McPhee says she has five lessons to teach, adding “what they learn is up to them.” In contrast to this post-modern nanny, the rules are traditional and didactic: Go to bed when you are told, get up when you are told, get dressed when you are told, listen and behave. Yet these lessons are not only for the children to learn.
Nanny McPhee also has two other conditions in her contract – Sunday afternoons off and “When you need me, but do not want me, then I will stay. When you want me, but do not need me, then I have to go.”
At the beginning, Nanny McPhee’s warts suggest to the children that she is a witch. But as the children learn their lessons, her ugly blemishes disappear. While this could be misinterpreted as suggesting that physical beauty is more important than inner beauty, I think it rather suggests that as the children come to love Nanny McPhee she becomes beautiful to them. That is highlighted by the film’s log line – “You’ll learn to love her. Warts and all.” – but perhaps not handled as adroitly as possible by director Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine).
Thompson, the only person to ever have won Oscars for both acting (Howard’s End) and screenwriting (Sense and Sensibility), wrote the screenplay, which is based on the British “Nurse Matilda” books by Christianna Brand. The 97-minute film also contains some unforgivable clichéd gimmicks designed to pander to the younger set: a talking and dancing donkey, a food fight and using computer-generated imagery on baby Aggy (Hebe and Zinnia Barnes) to make her lips match inserted dialogue.
There also is the stereotypical evil stepmother-to-be Mrs. Selma Quickly (Celia Imrie), a scheming tart who already has buried three husbands.
Nanny McPhee’s strongest moral lesson is that there are consequences to our actions. But that even when the consequences seem dire, we can use our creative abilities to imagine how to achieve possibilities that seem as impossible as snow in August.