Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Kirk Jones
Starring: Emma Thompson, Colin firth, Kelly Macdonald, Celia Imrie, Angela Lansbury, Derek Jacobi
(PG, 98 min.)
"That which is loved is always beautiful." Norwegian Proverb
They’ve successfully rid themselves of seventeen nannies, and the teeming brood of seven is ready to take out this new one in record time. But Nanny McPhee – from her twin hairy warts to her crookedly magical stick – is a force to be reckoned with. Let the games begin.
At its core, Nanny McPhee has darkness and more than a touch of macabre ruthlessness that is at once thrilling, dangerous, and outrageous. Just as the gruesome tales of the Brothers Grimm still fascinate, so very different from the sanitized politically correct versions spun out by Disney, Nanny McPhee opens with a corker. “They’ve eaten the baby,” bellows Nanny Seventeen as she bursts into Cedric Brown’s office, which just happens to be the local mortuary. Even for someone in this line of work, the news is shocking.
You have to give it to them – the conspiring seven who have tucked their infant sister into a cook pot for her nap and wrapped various pieces of chicken in her clothes. In fact, her little pink booties seem to make fine handles for the drumsticks they munch on. Set upon Daddy, Cedric Brown (Colin Firth) lifts the smiling babe from her bed of sautéed celery and sets about to find yet another Nanny.
The one that arrives is certainly not from the agency, but to say she is heaven sent does not quite fit either. Unless one’s image of a gift from above is a snaggle- toothed hag with a nose as big as two potatoes who sports not one but two immense hairy warts on her otherwise delicate features.
How she takes on this inventive batch of unruly children, however, really has nothing to do with her fearsome features. In fact, Nanny McPhee is extremely soft spoken, and in some ways, according to Emma Thompson, who penned the screenplay as well as played the title role, somewhat of a Zen master who displays an inner calm. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that she has a magical stick that alters reality when she taps it on the floor ever so lightly.
In some ways her methods are not that different from the old parental ploy of letting you have what you want until that object, as opposed to either Mum or Dad, punishes you. The freedom of gorging yourself senseless with an infinity of ice cream sounds terrific until the obligatory bellyache that follows.
So too with the over the top kitchen high jinx Nanny encounters her first night. The babbling cook, not completely sane on a good day, has been tied to floor to watch helplessly as the veggies are catapulted across the room. Instead of stopping the chaos, the new nanny uses her magic stick to speed it up until the children feel the fear of their juggernaut of mischief as much as the adults. The same for feigned measles, which become the real thing after a dose of Nanny McPhee’s special medicine, a dark, oozing slime that wiggles on the spoon.
As the children begin to sprout the first buds of civilized behavior, her tactics become more subtle and she gives them some taste of freedom again, just as long as they are willing to accept the consequences. And strangely enough, as the children’s behavior becomes less brutish, so does Nanny McPhee’s face. First one wart and then the other disappears until we wonder if we are watching an installment of The Swan, that patronizing paean to plastic surgery featured on reality TV.
But I think we are in deeper waters here. It is good that the film offers no explanation for this change, so the audience is free to speculate. Has Nanny McPhee really changed or is it just the altered perception of the children – once selfish and unruly, now beginning to see the world from a wider view? Maybe now they see her real self, her inner beauty? So too with the sweet scullery maid (Kelly Macdonald) who has been taken in by their aristocratic aunt and returns looking like a “fairy princess” according to the children. But their father insists that is nonsense; she as always looked like that, thus revealing his unacknowledged true feelings for her.
Other mythic elements frame the film, in particular the tale of the outsider who comes out of nowhere to restore order in a troubled town and then disappears. Some have even called this the American mono-myth. It underscores our Westerns in everything from the Lone Ranger to the many Clint Eastwood sagas. And thus Nanny McPhee says, “When you need me but do not want me, I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I must go.”
As Nanny McPhee takes a final solitary stroll down the sylvan lane, quietly making her exit from the now peaceful and loving family, we wonder, does she perhaps have an opening for the spring?
One of the more over the top moments of Nanny McPhee is the food fight that interrupts the wedding of Cedric Brown to a rather loathsome creature appropriately named Mrs. Quickly. Although the marriage is all that stands between him and the poor house -- in the literal Dickens sense – the reality of the vulgar harridan he is about to marry has finally landed upon the children, and the poor house sounds more appealing. Despite Nanny McPhee’s disapproval of their earlier sporting activities in the kitchen, she shows no dismay over the first iced piece of wedding cake that takes flight here.
Several iced delicacies soon join the fray – a particularly nice green one landing resoundingly upon the autocratic nose of their rich auntie -- this catharsis not entirely conforming to Aristotle’s discourse on such, but liberating none the less.
Our recipe for English trifle has just the right amount of ripe raspberries and gooey whipped cream to make the mark. The sherry drizzle is an appropriate complement for the one that connects with Angela Lansbury”s Aunt Adelaide, she who announces her visits with a rude insistence for her sherry.
By the way, this makes a terrific and impressive Valentine's Day dessert.
Raspberry Trifle with Sherry Drizzle
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups milk
- 3 egg yolks, beaten
- 3 tablespoons margarine or butter
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 package ladyfingers
- 2 tablespoons sherry
- 2 cups raspberries
- 1 cup chilled whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons toasted, slivered almonds
Mix 1/2 cup sugar, the cornstarch, and salt in a 3-quart saucepan; gradually stir in milk. Heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly; boil and stir 1 minute. Stir at least half of the hot mixture gradually into egg yolks. Stir back into hot mixture in saucepan. Boil and stir 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in margarine, vanilla, and almond extract. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours.
Split ladyfingers lengthwise into halves. Layer half of the ladyfingers, cut sides up, in 2-quart glass serving bowl. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the sherry. Layer half of the raspberries and half of the cold egg yolk mixture over ladyfingers; repeat. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours, but no longer than 8 hours.
Beat whipping cream and 2 tablespoons sugar in chilled bowl until stiff; spread over dessert. Sprinkle with almonds.
Recipe Source: Appetite for Murder; A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook