This weekend my mother and I watched the Universal Pictures film Nanny McPhee.
Before I go any further, if you haven’t seen it yet go see it. It’s a fantastically told story of a family going through change. Movie trailer from Universal Movies linked below. Please Note: The link below will take you to the third party site YouTube.
The film is based on Christina Brand’s Nurse Matilda books although many people also relate the film as a modern day Mary Poppins story.
For those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet or haven’t seen it in a while, here’s a three part blurb about the film.
There is much dysfunction in the Brown household with Cedric Brown and his seven children. Nanny McPhee becomes the children’s new nanny in order to teach five lessons. The Brown household learns to ban together during a time of uncertainty.
Nanny McPhee comes to the Brown household with “five lessons to teach”.
Nanny McPhee’s Five Lessons
Lesson #1 – To go to bed when they are told
Lesson #2 – To get up when they are told
Lesson #3 – To get dressed when they are told
Lesson #4 – To listen
Lesson #5 – To do exactly as they are told
Although as Nanny McPhee tells Cedric, “What the children learn is entirely up to them”.
Below are a few points I found particularly intriguing about the movie.
Nanny McPhee Herself
When Nanny McPhee first comes to the Brown household she is elderly and considerable unattractive. As the children learn their five lessons she transforms into a younger, beautiful woman.
Nanny McPhee’s appearance can be seen as a physical representation of the children’s behavior. It could also speak to how each lesson they must learn is “ugly” but as they learn those lessons things become “beautiful” again. As Fact of Life #14 says, not everything that’s good for the soul is pretty.
Another point about Nanny McPhee that is never outwardly verified is that she comes to the Brown household on behalf of the deceased mother. Two times during the movie Nanny McPhee is shown bowing to the “empty chair” in Cedric’s office – the “empty chair” which is kept in memory of the mother. This, plus her mysterious powers, play into Nanny McPhee’s mysterious background and makes the question of who she is and where she came from open to interpretation.
Perhaps most importantly, Nanny McPhee will always be there when you need her. Numerous times the children turn to Nanny McPhee for advice and help, even when it’s her “Sunday afternoon off”. Not only is she there for the children, but she is also there for the adult members of the household as well.
She is seen sticking up for the scullery maid Evangeline multiple times and she is also seen sticking up for Cedric.
In one scene Great Aunt Adelaide comes to the Brown household to relieve Cedric of a “great burden”. Cedric initially believes this to mean that she will give more financial support to the family but later learns that she instead intends to take one of his daughters away from him in order to raise\educate her at her own mansion.
It is clear that Cedric is often times bullied by Aunt Adelaide, partly due to the fact that she pays the rent for their home; however when Aunt Adelaide threatens to take one of his daughters away from him he puts his foot down even though he knows doing so will cause extreme strife.
When Aunt Adelaide begins to act unruly, Nanny McPhee intervenes before she can attack Cedric. This shows that she does recognize and understand the harsh pressure Cedric is under and also that he is doing the best he can, considering the circumstances.
Lessons Are Not Just For Children
Nanny McPhee comes with the intention of teaching the children five lessons, however the children are not the only family members who learn from Nanny McPhee, as Cedric learns just as much as the children.
After the children have learned Lesson #2, Christianna, one of Cedric’s daughters, asks for Cedric to read the children a story. Cedric makes the excuse about not being able to do so for he must do his letter writing instead. At this Nanny McPhee is clearly seen rolling her eyes at Cedric’s response.
At the beginning of the movie Cedric receives a letter from Aunt Adelaide saying that if he does not marry by the end of the month she will stop paying the rent for their home. This consequently means that the family will be split up and the children will no longer be together.
Cedric attempts to betroth Mrs. Quickly but does not tell the children about any of this. He also becomes extremely defensive when Simon, Cedric’s eldest son and arguable the leader amongst the children, questions him on the matter.
Because the children do not get a clear answer as to why Cedric is pursuing Mrs. Quickly, the children sabotage Cedric and Mrs. Quickly’s initial meeting together, making splitting up the family seemingly the only possible outcome.
Cedric afterwards acknowledges his mistake of keeping the children in the dark about matters by saying, “I should have told you. I can see that now”.
The Spoon Theory
Lesson #2 is “To get up when they are told”. The Brown children attempt to fool Nanny McPhee by playing ill so they won’t have to get out of bed. As a lesson to them Nanny McPhee works her magic so they have a high fever and physically cannot get out of bed. She plays along with their trick and tells the children that their symptoms are clearly indicative of the measles and therefore must be cured with measles medicine to be “administered every hour, on the hour”. The medicine she gives the children is shown as dark black liquid that looks like it’s moving.
Here’s my theory about that scene. I think that scene is a spoof off of Mary Poppins’ “A Spoonful Of Sugar”. In Mary Poppins the children are given a spoonful of sweet tasting medicine for their cold. But in Nanny McPhee the children are given multiple doses of bad tasting medicine. The scenes are parallel to each other, but opposite.
A spoonful of sugar may make the medicine go down, but sometimes a spoonful of tough love is needed to make the lesson go down.
There are many more underlying lessons and themes to be found in Nanny McPhee which makes the film so great. Now I challenge you to see what lessons you can learn. There are five lessons that are taught in the film, but what you learn is entirely up to you.
Housekeeping Note: The cook in the movie is hysterical. Also, there is a sequel to Nanny McPhee as well, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang.