Review by Rosie, PlazaQueen, PandaCat
Writing: Emma Thompson
Creator: Christianna Brand (Nurse Matilda)
Soundtrack: Patrick Doyle
Starring: Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Angela Lansbury, Kelly Macdonald, Derek Jacobi, et al.
Rating: Imperial Star Destroyer (7½-8 / 10)
Stories about nannies and the troubled families they come to care for have always been popular in print as well as on the small and large screen. Nanny McPhee is destined to join the other denizens of this pantheon of caretakers who are somewhere between teacher, nurse, family member, and police officer.
The storybook series called Nurse Matilda might have languished out of print if not for actress Emma Thompson, who likely read them as a child in England, the birthplace of a special brand of human we like to refer as the quintessential nanny. Thompson wrote the screenplay as well as starred in this screen adaptation.
The story: Cedric Brown is a widower with seven children (Hmmm ... where have we seen that before? And how many times?) who has not been able to keep a nanny to care for them. The movie begins with the last of seventeen nannies driven from the house by these incorrigible tykes.
No matter whether the families in these tales are well-off or not, the problems stem from the household being out of control in some fashion, whether through the loss of a parent (usually the mother), or some other aspect of household chaos. Enter Mary Poppins (both book series and movie), or Fraulein Maria (Sound of Music), or Fran Fine (television series, The Nanny), or Phoebe Figalilly (remember TV's Nanny and the Professor?), or "Grandmother" (Bradbury's I Sing the Body Electric) and now Nanny McPhee. And it isn't only the children who have lessons to learn in these tales.
Nannies seem to be magical, whether they resort to "actual" magic or not. Usually, their magic is vague; after all, who's to say whether Mary Poppins or Phoebe Figalilly really didn't make the children think there was magic happening? Others are simply depicted as wiser than their charges. In any case, Nanny McPhee falls into the realm of magic-user her "wand" is a walking stick. When it's struck on the floor, sparks fly and odd things happen ...
There were many comments in the movieworld by those who wondered if this would just be another take on Disney's Mary Poppins. While it's true that Emma Thompson's screenplay owes much to films which came before it, this is a refreshing take on those more saccharin-sweet efforts from the past.
For one, the production values of Nanny McPhee are higher music is even done by the same man who wrote the score for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and beach scenes required helicoptors to haul six tonnes of equipment on location! And Emma Thompson's character actually changed over the movie; as the children grew to appreciate her, the rather stern, harsh looking woman got prettier and softer. Was it magic? Or did she change so much in her charges' eyes?
We were charmed as the children (and their father ...) took Nanny McPhee's lessons to heart, slowly but surely re-establishing harmony and cooperation out of the chaos, forging a happier family who eventually no longer needed her help. She says herself, "When you need me, but do not want me, I shall stay. But when you want me, but do not need me, then I'll go." (Yup …)
The ending is rather familiar, too … the nanny eventually must leave. Or in some cases, they become part of the family but those would not be the not-veddy veddy British nannies. We feel happy for the family, and sad for the nanny, but we know she'll show up with another family who needs her desperately it makes some of us wish Nanny McPhee could help us!.
Everyone in our group enjoyed the film, from the pre-teen and teen to the adult, and it seemed others in the movie theater liked the film, too. It's a "family film" in the good old-fashioned sense of the term, with something for everyone who'd attend the film. The teen noted that the story was predictable and fantasy-like, but was told very well. Even though you knew what was likely to happen next, it wasn't a "punched-out, churned-out brainless cartoony" film; it was much more unique than that, and it was a story that was easy to respect. Even with the kind of cheesy ending!
One caution the garish color scheme which was typified as "English." In fact, during the Victorian era, it was popular to paint houses in colors like pink, pumpkin orange, acid green ... the industrial revolution was in full swing and tints previously unavailable were all the rage. So even though it looks like "Victorian on LSD," it's actually not too far from "reality." (Hey, this film is educational!)
Worth noting is the end credit sequence of the film, which owes much to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban's end credits which features the Maurauder's Map (a movie which Emma Thompson appeared as divination teacher, Sybil Trelawny). And the music sounds a lot like that movie too, especially since it was written by Patrick Doyle, who scored this movie, as well as Goblet of Fire. Another link to another magical film!
In short, it's a "safe" movie to take the kids to, but it's a good movie, too. That's a rarity anywhere, even rarer than women like Nanny McPhee!
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