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Nanny McPhee (***)
Directed by Kirk Jones
Written by Emma Thompson, based on books by Christianna Brand
Nanny McPhee
Principal Cast
Emma Thompson -- Nanny McPhee
Colin Firth -- Cedric Brown
Kelly Macdonald -- Evangeline
Celia Imrie -- Selma Quickly
Derek Jacobi -- Mr. Wheen
Patrick Barlow -- Mr. Jowls
Imelda Staunton -- Mrs. Blatherwick
Thomas Sangster -- Simon Brown
Angela Lansbury -- Great Aunt Adelaide
Ratings
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

Emma Thompson is a rare bird -- two great talents, actress and writer. And how she writes! She won an Oscar for her script for Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility and the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) credits her as unsung script doctor for the recent Pride and Prejudice. She wrote and stars in this first fantasy film of 2006. The script has its good points and its bad points.

I certainly enjoyed the movie. Just when it seemed to be moving toward an embarrassing sit-com situation, the script would take a sharp turn by acknowledging an emotional truth beyond the realm of sit-coms. For example the father, who is in many ways a pathetic cad, refuses to give up one of his children to avoid debtor's prison.

There are a number of purely magical moments.

But there are also some bad spots. Which brings us to the spoiler warning, of course.

spoiler warning

The father's problem, throughout the film, is how to keep the children's awful Great Aunt Adelaide sending him money every month. The picture he paints of life without her money is grim indeed -- debtor's prison for him, the work house for the older children, and God Knows What Fate for the youngest.

Now, in Nineteenth Century England the division between the classes was certainly severe, and a lack of patronage would lead to a greatly reduced life style: no more big house, gardens, or servants. But the father has a good job as undertaker. If he sold the house and moved into a cottage, put the older children to work minding the younger children, it seems as if he could have avoided the calamity he so fears.

Instead, he plans to marry an awful woman, a wicked stepmother to be if there ever was one. She is so outlandishly overplayed that she never seems a serious threat. Nobody in the audience doubts for a minute that the movie will end with daddy married to Evangeline, the loving and pretty upstairs maid, and that they will get to keep their big house and gardens and servants.

As for the children, while they behave badly at the beginning of the film, it is clear that they are all little angels at heart. Unfortunately, there is no differentiation between them. Every one of them is cute and sweet and smart. There is not even a hint of sibling rivalry. Nanny McPhee whips them into shape in no time. Using magic to do it almost seems like cheating.

There is a happy ending of course. Great Aunt Adelaide, who is nearsighted, winds up taking Evangeline to live with her, under the impression that she is one of her nieces. She makes her heir to a fortune. Then Evangeline marries the children's father, and everything is hunky dory.

Which brings us to the biggest problem in the film.

We never do find out whether Great Aunt Adelaide lives or dies. We never do find out whether she cuts the maid out of her will when she discovers her true identity. She just shrieks, and that's the last we see of her.

I would like to think that Emma Thompson wrote a better ending, and the director or the studio nixed it. Here is the ending I would have liked to see.

Great Aunt Adelaide: "Well, I've always known you were an unfit father. Since you have failed to remarry, as I required, I'm cutting you off without a cent."

Father: "But I will marry. I will marry this very day. Evangeline, will you marry me?"

Great Aunt Adelaide: "What! Marry your own daughter? Incest? (pauses to consider) Well, at least she has good breeding.

Evangeline: "But Madam, I am not his daughter."

Great Aunt Adelaide: "Then who, pray tell...?

Evangeline: "I am the scullery maid."

Great Aunt Adelaide shrieks. Incest was acceptable, but to marry beneath one's station! She clutches her heart and dies on the spot, without having a chance to change her will.

All live happily ever after.

Copyright © 2006 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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