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Film / Nanny McPhee

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She will make you behave.
Click here  for the second film's poster.

"When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go."
Nanny McPhee

Cedric Brown (Colin Firth) is a hard-working widower who can't spend much time with his seven children, so he leaves them in the care of nannies. However, the children are very naughty and have managed, with pride, to scare the past seventeen nannies away. Running out of options, Mr. Brown listens to a mysterious voice's advice to call for a "Nanny McPhee". Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) turns out to be a hag-like woman with a crooked cane and a habit of appearing out of nowhere (though she does mention she did knock). But there's a secret to her care-taking — she has magic powers, which she uses to teach the children some important lessons.

Naughty children aren't the only problems Mr. Brown has to face. The truth is his late wife's aunt, Lady Adelaide Stitch, is supporting the family through a regular allowance, and she decides that unless Mr. Brown remarries by the end of the month, she will cut off those funds, meaning he will lose his house and his children. It's up to Nanny McPhee to help save a family on the brink of ruin.


The 2005 movie did well in theaters, and a sequel, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang (called Nanny McPhee Returns in the United States for undisclosed reasons), premiered in 2010. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a beleaguered housewife juggling a farm and three children, while awaiting her husband's return from the war. With the added pressure of her brother-in-law wanting her to sell off the farm (to pay off his own gambling debts), and two upper-class cousins staying over, Nanny McPhee is needed once again. The trailer can be seen here.


Nanny McPhee provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adapted Out: In the original book series Nurse Matilda, there were a lot of children of the Browns. In the film, there are only seven.
  • Adaptation Name Change: The main character Nanny McPhee was originally named "Nurse Matilda". Emma Thompson said this was changed for a few reasons. One was because the term "Nurse" was a different term for a nanny and nobody would get it. The other was because they didn't want to use "Matilda" due to it being similar to Roald Dahl's book.
  • Arc Words: In the first film, "He took her lovingly by the hand." from Pride and Prejudice
  • Baby See Baby Do: When Mrs. Quickly tells the children to behave, Aggie repeats it but says, "Beehive!" which inspires the kids to pretend bees are attacking.
  • Bait-and-Switch: In the sequel, when Celia refuses to go out to help catching piglets in the mud, at first it seems to her (and us) that Nanny McPhee is going to force her to go outside with magic...then she just holds up a pair of wellingtons.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Played with. It's more like "goodness equals beauty", as Nanny McPhee grows progressively beautiful as the families she cares for become better people.
  • Beauty Inversion: Spun into a plot point for Nanny McPhee. Every time the children learn something, one of her many hideous blemishes disappear. By the time her job is done, she's a completely unblemished Emma Thompson. Essentially, she's as ugly on the outside as they are on the inside.
  • Be Careful What You Say:
    • See Playing Sick below.
    • In the sequel, the farm kids refuse to share their beds with the city kids, claiming they'd rather share their beds with the farm's goat and cow. Then the smallest farm kid blurts out "elephant" as his choice, leading up to Nanny McPhee trying to hide a literal Elephant in the Living Room.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: In the sequel. The extent of Phil's wrongdoing is finally made known to Isabel, even as he tries to get the military police guy to cart him off - but the MP has to tend to a bomb threat, leaving Phil with a handcuff on him. Isabel takes the other end and cuffs him to the wall, sealing his fate one way or another.
  • Big Brother Instinct: As rotten as the Brown children can be, they do care about each other. For example, when Aggie's rattle was snatched away, one of her sisters comforted her and Simon demanded that Selma give it back. Also, during the kitchen scene, the other children were worried about Aggie being flung into a pot of boiling water.
  • Big Ol' Unibrow: One of Nanny McPhee's unflattering features.
  • Black Cloak: One of these helps to intensify Nanny McPhee's spooky vibe, to the point where, in each film, we do not see her arms until she pulls out her magic walking stick for the first time.
  • Blanket Tug O' War: The baby elephant and Vincent in the sequel.
  • Blitz Evacuees: The cousins from London. Though that wasn't the only reason...
  • Bratty Half-Pint: In both film, There's Simon and then Celia.
  • Brick Joke: The baby elephant in the sequel. And a surprising number of people already know Nanny McPhee, including Mrs. Docherty.
  • But Now I Must Go: See above.
  • Cassandra Truth: In the second movie, when the kids talk about the pigs' amazing abilities, like synchronized swimming and climbing trees, Isabel tells them to stop telling lies.
  • Chekhov's Skill: From a bird of all things (in the sequel).
  • Cloudcuckoolanders: Mr. Brown's partners at the funeral agency — Mr. Wheen and Mr. Jowls.
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right: In the sequel, Mrs. Docherty, the loopy general store owner played by Maggie Smith happens to know Nanny McPhee personally.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Nanny McPhee's prefered method of punishment. Play sick? She will make it real. Won't stop fighting? She will make you beat yourselves up.
  • Continuity Nod: In the sequel, Mrs. Docherty was the youngest Brown child from the previous movie.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: Cook, specifically when she makes her "army broth" in the first movie. She is delighted to make it instead of some of the richer fare she usually has to make.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Half of the madness that the Brown children cause in the first film probably wouldn't have happened if Cedric had just been honest with them about the financial troubles. He admits as much after Mrs. Quickly agrees to marry him.
  • Crush the Keepsake: Mrs Quickly snaps in half Aggie's rattle, which belonged to the children's late mother, although Nanny McPhee magically repairs it in the end.
  • Cue the Flying Pigs: Nanny McPhee Returns had flying pigs, referential of a similar gag in the first film in which "snow in August" was used as a phrase to describe something supposedly impossible and then did happen thanks to Nanny's magic.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Nanny McPhee may be a frightening woman with unsettling uses of magic, but said approach is always effective and she shows a true caring for the issues close to the families' hearts.
  • Death by Adaptation: In the original book, Mrs. Brown was alive and well. She's dead prior to the events of the film version, and this was the main driving point for it as Mr. Brown is forced to be remarried.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Mr. Brown tries this on the children, but they retaliate by sneaking into the kitchen and taking the cook hostage.
  • Disappeared Dad: The premise of the sequel.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: Faked by Celia in the sequel to keep her aunt Isabel from signing Phil's contract to sell the farm.
  • Eureka Moment: The kids in the second film have one when they realize it wasn't some Military tech or gas, but magic Nanny McPhee has used on them.
  • Evil-Detecting Baby: At the mention of Great Aunt Adelaide, baby Aggie immediately starts wailing.
  • Expy: Nanny McPhee is Mary Poppins.
  • Food Fight: Two — one near the beginning with chaos, catapults and near-explosions, and one at the wedding at the end, including wedding cake being thrown. Not to mention the one who kicks it all off is a priest toward the bride — accidentally, but still.
  • Foreshadowing: In the sequel, a British Royal Guard turns out to be one of Nanny McPhee's children from the past. So was Mrs. Docherty— maiden name Brown.
  • Full-Name Basis: We're given no alternative address for Nanny McPhee herself, and nobody refers to her as any less than her full title.
  • Gasshole: Mr. Edelweiss the rook's habit of eating putty turns it into one. Consistently.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • In his attempts to stop his children's pranks from harming Mrs. Quickly, Mr. Brown's tackling and diverting maneuvers look like bold sexual advances to her, which happens so many times, she leaves, not wanting to be used.
    • When the children suggest Evangeline marry Mr. Brown at the wedding, Great-Aunt Adelaide is shocked, having believed Evangeline was his daughter, not his maid. In surprise, she even cries out "Incest!" before she is corrected.
  • Good Stepmother: Evangeline settles fights between the children, tries to help them, and figures out why they're acting out. Their father, Cedric Brown, hasn't paid attention to them since their mother died, but they don't want a stepmother because of fairy tales. By the end of the movie, Cedric and Evangeline marry.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: A non-death example. Evangeline pretends to be one of Cedric's daughters and allows Aunt Adelaide to take her, so that none of his actual children have to go.
  • Inexplicably Awesome: We don't know where Nanny McPhee got her powers from.
  • Injured Limb Episode: Rory Green comes back at the end of the second film with his arm in a sling.
  • Kids Play Matchmaker: A sub-plot involves the kids' father being single and his snobby aunt Adelaide saying that he needs a new wife and trying to force him to marry an evil woman named Mrs Quickly. At the end, the kids get him out of it by having him marry Evangeline the maid.
  • Lighter and Softer: The second film has a lot more whimsical, extravagant, and perhaps frivolous uses of magic, and the scary vibe around Nanny McPhee herself is reduced.
  • Leap of Faith: In the sequel film, one of Nanny McPhee's medals is for Leaps of Faith and, at the end of the film, she awards it to Isabel.
  • Magical Nanny: Nanny McPhee shows up to help parents who are at their wits' end and teaches the kids to behave, whether they want to or not.
  • Marry the Nanny: Mr. Brown doesn't marry the titular nanny, but instead the scullery maid Evangeline, who did settle fights among the family before Nanny McPhee came along.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • While not prominent, Celia and Cyril's surname is Gray while Isabel's family is Green. Celia and Cyril comes from the city while Isabel's family lives on the countryside. This also ties into the themed naming from the film in general, as the protagonists from the last film have the surname Brown.
  • Missing Mom: Mrs. Brown in the first movie is dead.
  • Missing Trailer Scene: Some of the trailers for the sequel film included quite a bit of material that didn't make into the final cut of the film, though some of it was included in deleted scenes.
  • Novelization: There's one for Nanny McPhee Returns and it's written by Emma Thompson, who plays Nanny McPhee and was the writer for both films. It's her first ever children's book and it takes the form of a movie filming diary mixed in with the actual story. The book was praised by reviewers as being more than a simple tie-in. The audiobook version of the novelization is narrated by Emma.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!:
    • When Simon ruins Cedric's chance at marrying Mrs. Quickly, he believed he had finally stopped his father from attempting to get them an evil stepmother. Cedric, having tried to shield his kids from the reality of his financial situation (which requires him to be married by the end of the month, which was just days away, or he loses Aunt Adelaide's financial support), walks in completely destroyed and informs the kids of what they had just done.
    • In the sequel, the girls have to prevent Isabel from signing the deed to the farm, and Megsie successfully filches uncle Phil's pen. When Phil finds three more in a drawer, Nanny McPhee intervenes by bringing back the baby elephant to snatch the three pens without him knowing. And then he finds the first pen on Megsie.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Miss Topsy and Miss Turvy in the sequel, who talk about harvesting Phil's kidneys and taxidermising him with mad glee.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Implied. Nanny McPhee asks Norman to not lose her stick as the paperwork to replace it is unbelievable.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: A Running Gag in the first movie. Nanny McPhee will appear behind people when she wasn't even previously close at all. She casually justifies this with the line:
    "I did knock."
  • Overly Long Scream: Celia when faking seeing a mouse. She apparently had been screaming for half an hour straight.
  • Phrase-Catcher: "I did knock." Although it is more like a borrowed (by Simon) Catch-Phrase.
  • Pie in the Face: Or wedding cake in the face, actually. Aunt Adelaide is too proper to throw food herself. So she had her servant throw on her behalf.
  • Playing Sick:
    • The children try this on Nanny McPhee, but she doesn't buy it for a second. And she punishes them for it by making them sick for real and physically unable to get out of their beds. Ouch!
    • They also Played Attacked-By-Bees at the wedding. It worked.
    • Revisited in the sequel, involving a "mouse".
  • Radish Cure: Nanny McPhee's magic usually operates on the idea, as most of her lessons involve granting the childrens' wishes exactly. When they cause chaos in the kitchen or fight with each other, Nanny McPhee makes it impossible for them to stop, to the point of risking serious damage, until they verbally express the desire to. When they pretend to be sick to stay in bed all day, Nanny will make them sick for real and magically bind them to their beds. If they say they'd rather share their beds with animals instead of their cousins, they get to enjoy cuddling with a horse or elephant. Pretty soon, the kids learn not to mess around.
  • Rags to Riches: Evangeline, who gets taken in by Aunt Adelaide in place of one of the children.
  • Really 700 Years Old: If the fact that she's the same in both movies despite a possible time difference of 60 years is any indication.
  • Remarrying for Your Kids: A major plot is the first movie is Cedric Brown's necessity to get remarried after his wife's death, due to pressure put on him by the great aunt. By the end of the movie, he marries Evangeline.
  • Running Gag:
    • "I did knock" in the first film.
    • "Nanny McPhee. Little 'c', big 'P'" becomes Nanny's standard greeting in the second film.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Evangeline.
  • She Is All Grown Up: In the sequel Mrs. Docherty is revealed to be Aggie Brown from the first movie.
  • Snow Means Love: At the end of the first movie, Nanny McPhee summons snow that magically cleans up the yard and removes the garish colors for the wedding of Cedric and Evangeline.
  • Social Climber: In the first movie, Mrs. Quickly allows herself to become reconciled to Mr. Brown (after his disastrous first attempt at a proposal) when she finds out that his aunt is Lady Adelaide Stitch. When she finally meets Lady Adelaide, Mrs. Quickly goes into extreme Professional Butt-Kisser mode.
  • Soup Is Medicine: Ms Blatherwick claims that the best thing to cure an ill person is potato gruel with peelings in. However, the children, who are Playing Sick, hate it.
  • Spot of Tea: Used a few times over.
  • The Stinger: At the end of the sequel, the elephant gets to enjoy the Scratch-o-Matic machine that was designed for the pigs.
  • Take a Third Option: In the first movie, Lady Adelaide gives Cedric an offer he can't refuse: she will take in one of his daughters (and only daughters) to live with her. She is especially keen on taking the youngest, Chrissie, while Nanny McPhee reminds the children that they can't send away the donkey they hoped to trick their great aunt into taking. It takes some quick thinking from Simon, but ultimately Evangeline is sent away, having been passed off as a daughter despite actually being the scullery maid.
  • Time Bomb: Of a sort, in the sequel.
  • Title Drop: In the sequel, a war veteran warns Isabel and family of the threat of bombings, calling it "the Big Bang".
  • Trapped by Gambling Debts: Why Phil is so desperate in convincing Isabel to sell the Greens' farm in the sequel. He gambled away his legal half of the farm at a casino, and two hit women eagerly want to either collect it, or his kidneys.
  • Trickster Mentor:
    • Nanny McPhee always has five lessons to teach. What else the people she helps may learn is another matter.
    • While she is a Nanny to the children, it's implied that not all the lessons are for them. In the first movie, it's implied that Lesson 4 was more for Cedric than the children, and the final lesson in the second movie is implied to be for everyone in the household (even the uncle).
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Selma Quickly. Amusingly she says, "There are going to be changes around here.", a line made famous by Imelda Staunton as Professor Umbridge in Harry Potter's own Tyrant Takes the Helm story arc while Imelda Staunton herself is playing the cook in this film. (And Emma Thompson's (Nanny McPhee) character, Professor Trelawney, was a victim of those changes.)
  • Wardrobe Wound: Celia shrieks more about her new clothes being dragged in the mud than during the ensuing beat-'em-up scene.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Simon refuses to give Nanny McPhee any control in the kitchen scene... despite the fact that the curse they're under could cause his baby sibling to be hurled into a pot of boiling water. Naturally, everyone is screaming at him.
  • Why Waste a Wedding?: After running off Selma Quickly, and a fix-up from Nanny McPhee, Cedric and Evangeline use it.
  • Wicked Stepmother: The Brown siblings chase away their father's prospects because they believe in this trope. Played straight in that Selma Quickly would have been a rotten stepmother — had she actually married Mr. Brown. Subverted by the sweet Evangeline actually being the one becoming the kids' stepmother- much to everyone's joy.
  • Wicked Witch: Nanny McPhee take significant cues from this. She's an old woman who wears a conservative outfit in all black, with an ugly nose, snaggle tooth, and warts, and uses a magic stick. The second film even gives her an animal companion who is strongly implied to be a human she transformed. Of course, she's not actually evil and her witchy elements decrease as the families learn.
  • Wire Dilemma: In the sequel film.


Example of: