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Film / Nanny McPhee

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She will make you behave.

"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.

Nanny McPhee provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Accidental Pervert: When Mrs. Quickly has tea with Cedric, the kids have laced the room with nasty pranks and Cedric spends the whole tea trying to block or hide them to prevent Mrs. Quickly from noticing. Due to this, he ends up tackling and embracing her in a variety of ways, causing her to think he's being driven mad with lust until she can't take it anymore. She even remarks when the children come to apologize that this perceieved lust explains why there are so many of them.

  • Adaptation Name Change: The main character Nanny McPhee was originally named Nurse Matilda. Emma Thompson said this was changed for a couple of reasons. For one, the term "Nurse" is no longer associated with "nanny", and only calls medical staff to mind. As for "Matilda", they didn't want to use it since it was likely to remind people of Roald Dahl's book.

  • Adaptation Title Change: Nanny McPhee was based on a series of books called Nurse Matilda.

  • Adapted Out: In the original Nurse Matilda books, there are even more children in the Brown family. In the film, there are only seven.

  • Arc Words:

  • 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. Nanny McPhee gives their act a magical push and the pretend bees start to agitate the other guests.

  • Babysitter's Nightmare: The seven Brown children are such terrors that they take pride in having scared away 17 different nannies. Nanny Whetstone, the strictest, toughest, and most fearless Nanny in all the land, besides Nanny McPhee, fled the Brown household in 3 days, 8 hours, and 47 minutes, the children tricking her into thinking that they had eaten the baby.

  • 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. She initially starts out as a Creepy Good herself and her transformation is reflective of the family's, as she loses first a hunch, then a snaggle tooth and finally a mole.

  • 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 Wish For: When the Brown children pretend to have the measles, so that they don't have to get out of bed, Nanny McPhee stops them from getting out of bed, and makes their feigned illness real.

  • Big Brother Instinct: As rotten as the Brown children can be, they do care about each other. For example, when Aggie's rattle is snatched away, one of her sisters comforts her and Simon demands that Selma give it back. Also, during the kitchen scene, the other children are worried about Aggie being flung into a pot of boiling water if Simon doesn't apologize to break Nanny McPhee's spell (which makes them unable to stop making the chaos they've created) quickly enough.

  • 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 at all until she pulls out her magic walking stick for the first time.

  • Blatant Lies: Nanny McPhee claims to be a "government nanny" to distance herself from any agency that Cedric might be compelled to look into, though her witchy vibes make this claim clearly flimsy.

  • Borrowed Catchphrase: After several instances where Nanny McPhee justifies her mysterious entrances with "I did knock", Simon finds himself saying the same to justify himself when he enters her room and she appears in it out of nowhere (although in Simon's case, he actually did knock).

  • Broken Aesop: The film's climax involving aftermath of the Brown kids' sabotage of their father's attempt to make a good impression with Selma Quickly, comes back to haunt them as the marriage was actually going to save their house and family from having to be forced into labor. This is meant to showcase how the kids' naughty actions have consequences and they would have to behave... and yet near the end of the film, apparently it's okay for the Browns to cause mischief sabotage Quickly and Brown's wedding, and make a mess with Great-Aunt Adelaide present, despite the fact that it only pushed Quickly away further, and further damaged their chances at saving their home. This is meant to be portrayed as a funny and cathartic moment, but it makes it look like the Brown kids learned absolutely nothing, and it's basically okay to prevent a marriage to someone you possibly dislike, because he'll be able to marry anyway with someone more loving and caring. Somewhat justified since Nanny McPhee herself is not above a little mischief when done for a truly good cause (see Not So Above It All below).

  • But Now I Must Go: As Nanny McPhee says about herself:
    "There is something you should understand about the way I work. 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."

  • Calling Your Nausea: When Nanny McPhee's stick makes the children unable to stop what they're doing, one girl remarks, "I'm going to be sick!" She never throws up, though.

  • Canon Foreigner: Selma Quickly did not originate from the Nurse Matilda books.
  • Caretaking is Feminine: The Brown children have scared away 17 nannies, all women (based on Simon's board), before Nanny McPhee comes along.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Simon laments that his father never plays cricket with him anymore early in the film. At the wedding, when a cake food fight is started, Cedric takes up a violin by the neck and invites Simon to toss him some cake for batting practice.
  • Child Care and Babysitting Stories: It tells the story of 7 disobedient siblings who get babysat by the titular nanny and her unusual punishments for them.

  • Cloudcuckoolanders: Mr. Brown's partners at the funeral agency — Mr. Wheen and Mr. Jowls.

  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Nanny McPhee's preferred method of punishing the children, which is to exacerbate their actions.
    • Want to play in the kitchen all night long? She'll magically compel you to keep going, even if the logical conclusion risks the kitchen being blown up, and the baby thrown in the boiling stockpot.
    • Playing Sick, so you don't have to get out of bed? She'll make the illness real, magically stop you from getting out of bed, and administer horrid medicine, every hour.

  • Copycat Mockery: When sabotaging the wedding, two of the kids put on Mrs. Quickly's fallen hair extensions and copy her line about calling them "the little, small things" from earlier. She takes this as well as you'd expect.

  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: Cook, specifically when she offers to make "best thin potato gruel, with peelings in", after being informed that the children are ill, and Nanny McPhee suggests she make a broth. She is delighted to make it, believing that while the broth got her charges groaning when she cooked for the army, it kept the troops strong.
    • In her defense, this is apparently not the first time the children have feigned illness in order to obtain "jellies and ice cream, raspberry cordial and God knows what else."

  • "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 their financial troubles, as the children didn't realize he had to marry to continue receiving money from Great-Aunt Adelaide, and sabotaged a tea with Mrs. Quickly, his awful potential bride, to drive her away. Once they learn from Cedric what they've really done, they return to Mrs. Quickly to apologize so she'll come back and marry their father. In fairness to them, however, she really is as horrible as they first believed.

  • Crush the Keepsake: Mrs Quickly snaps Aggie's rattle, which belonged to the children's late mother, in two. Nanny McPhee makes sure to return it, repaired, before she departs at the end.

  • Dark Is Not Evil: Nanny McPhee wears dark clothes and 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 to give the plot a main driving point as Mr. Brown is forced to be remarried.

  • Death by Childbirth: Implied as the youngest Brown child is an infant.

  • Denied Food as Punishment: Mr. Brown tries this on the children, but they retaliate by sneaking into the kitchen and taking Cook hostage.

  • Disappeared Dad: The Green family in the sequel is missing the father, who is away at war and out of contact with them.

  • Empty Chair Memorial: The late Mrs. Brown's chair is left untouched by Cedric. Twice throughout the movie, Nanny McPhee bows to the chair respectfully.

  • Evil-Detecting Baby: At the mention of Great-Aunt Adelaide, baby Aggie immediately starts wailing.

  • Exact Words: Great-Aunt Adelaide sends Mr. Brown a telegram that reads, "I am coming with the express intention of easing your financial burden." This does not mean what Mr. Brown thinks.
    • Nanny McPhee's instructions to the children, on the day of Great-Aunt Adelaide's arrival. "I'm sure that they will do exactly as they are told".
      • Then Simon does it on the day she comes for tea. "We've been told to put our best clothes on, right? Well, I'm putting my best clothes on...the pig."
    • And then in the climax, Adelaide herself is the target. She gave her word that if Mr. Brown remarried before the end of the month, she'd keep supporting his family, and she takes pride in never breaking her word, even if it meant that he married someone else that instant after the previous bride had left in a huff.

  • Food Fight: Two — one near the beginning with chaos, catapults and near-explosions, and one at the wedding at the end, including cake being thrown. Not to mention the one who kicks it all off is a priest toward the bride — accidentally, but still.

  • Foul Medicine: When the Brown children are sick with the measles, Nanny McPhee administers a thick, black, bubbling medicine, once an hour. Judging by the expressions Simon makes when he takes it, it tastes terrible, and the children are not able to spit it out, and they will have to swallow it sooner or later. Eric believes that it is made of toads.
    Eric: The situation is very simple, Evangeline. The nanny, who I believe is a witch, made us ill, and fed us boiled-down toads all day.

  • Freudian Excuse: Mrs. Quickly implies that the reason why the Brown kids are so rambunctious is because of their motherless state.

  • 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. An army recruit and former 'patient' of hers in the second film refers to her as "ma'am," but only after providing the complete title first.

  • Good Stepmother: Evangeline, the scullery maid, 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.

  • Head Desk: Cedric does this as his kids raise a ruckus while he's trying to write an apology letter to Nanny Whetstone.
    "Dear Nanny Whetstone, I'm so very sorry. My children..."
    [the children are heard shouting and quarrelling upstairs]
    My children.

  • 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.

  • Hoist by Their Own Petard:
    • The prank that the Brown children intended to put their great-aunt off adopting one of them - dressing up the donkey - goes wrong and causes Chrissie to run right into Aunt Adelaide... who up to that point had decided not to adopt one of the girls after all and was about to leave.
    • The attempts by the children to stop Cedric Brown remarrying succeed, meaning that the allowance supporting the Brown family would be cut off, almost dooming the family.

  • I Never Told You My Name: One of Nanny McPhee's oddities is that it seems she never needs to be told someone's name. In the first film, the kids try to mess with her by introducing themselves with silly and rude names, and not only does she show no sign of surprise or offense, once she turns around to leave the room she bids them all goodnight by their real names. They're duly unsettled.

  • Inexplicably Awesome: We don't know where Nanny McPhee got her powers from.

  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Despite being "vile and vicious", and "blind as a bat", Great-Aunt Lady Adelaide Stitch supports the Brown family with a monthly allowance, and maintains a strict sense of duty, doing what she believes is best for the family. This includes offering to adopt one of Cedric's children, who would be cared for, and educated in Stitch Manor. As a Stitch, she never breaks her promises, something that comes into play at the climax of the film. Additionally she seems to treat her servants well, addressing Nanny Mc Phee as "staff" rather respectfully - despite conversely having no problem ordering Cedric to shut up several times.

  • Jerkass Has a Point: While Adelaide isn't a pleasant woman, she is right in that the Brown children were uncontrollable, prior to Nanny McPhee's arrival, and that they needed a good role-model to serve as an influence.

  • Kids Play Match Breaker: After being told he must remarry or lose his allowance from Aunt Adelaide, Cedric invites Mrs. Quickly for tea, intending to propose. The kids try to sabotage the date by putting toads and tadpoles in the pot and cups, trying to dump Jello on her head, and flinging mashed potatoes at her. It kind of works—while none of the tricks go through or touch Mrs. Quickly, Cedric's attempts to rescue her give her the wrong message about his intentions.

  • Kids Play Matchmaker:
    • After discovering that in driving away Selma Quickly, they would lose the support of their Great-Aunt Adelaide, the Brown children set out to make amends, and matchmake Selma Quickly and Cedric Brown.
    • When Selma Quickly leaves the wedding in a huff, the Brown children play Matchmaker between Cedric Brown and Evangeline, allowing Cedric to marry the day before Great-Aunt Adelaide's allowance to them is cut off.

  • Light Is Not Good: Selma Quickly has blonde hair and wears bright clothing, but behind her smile is an unpleasant woman who would have been a terrible stepmother to the Brown children.

  • 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. She also possesses magical powers, which she mostly channels through her stick.

  • 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.

  • Missing Mom: Unlike the books, Mrs. Brown is dead. Her death is crucial to the plot as her aunt is threatening to cut off Cedric unless he marries before Adelaide's deadline ends... by the end of the month.

  • Mistaken for Flirting: Cedric Brown plans to marry Selma Quickly, but he's not in love with her; his aunt is pressuring him to get married or else she will cut off his family's allowance. When the children are setting up pranks around the house and he is trying to protect her from them, she thinks his leaning on her, grabbing her hand, etc. are attempts at seduction.

  • Mistaken for Incest: The Brown children trick their evil great-aunt Adelaide into thinking the maid, Evangeline, is their sister because she wants to adopt one of them. Later, Mr. Brown and Evangeline admit that they're in love, and Adelaide, still thinking they're father and daughter, yells, "Incest!".

  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • The Brown children, who have been consistently ruining Cedric Brown's attempts at courting and marrying other women after the death of their mother, believing that any stepmother would be an evil stepmother.
    • This comes to a head when they ruin his chance at marrying Selma Quickly, they believed they had finally stopped their 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, leading them to realize how wrong they were to do so.

  • Nose Nuggets: When the children are making rude names for themselves, Tora calls herself "Booger McHorsefanny".

  • Not So Above It All:
    • Nanny McPhee tells the children to "do exactly as they are told", implicitly allowing the children to partake in some mischief when Aunt Adelaide arrives, and later allows a little mischief to take place during the wedding under the same directive, winking at Simon to get him to encourage the children to start a bee scare at the wedding, and contributing a little magic to help out.
    • Like Nanny McPhee in the above example, Cedric was tired of his children causing trouble with their pranks. However, he proved himself to be okay with their mischief during the wedding and acted as though there were bees buzzing around Mrs. Quickly's hat. During the chaos at his wedding to Mrs. Quickly, Cedric grabs a violin, and tells Simon "bowling practice", hitting Evangeline with some cake.
    • Evangeline, as the prim and proper, adopted Evangeline Stitch, who gleefully partakes in the food fight at the wedding after being hit by cake.
    • While Nanny McPhee does not condone the children's mischief throughout the film, she herself has a mischievous side — all of the spells she uses to help the family involve a bit of trickery, such as enchanting the donkey to make Aunt Adelaide think it was a girl. The difference is, she knows when to be serious and not to punish those who don't deserve it.

  • Offscreen Teleportation: A Running Gag. 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."

  • Papa Wolf: A subtle example with Cedric near the end. When Selma gets fed up with the children’s antics and roughly grabs two of them, he protectively pulls them out of her grasp. While he may have been desperate to marry so his aunt-in-law would continue to support him and his family, he will not tolerate his prospective wife hurting his children.

  • Parental Substitute: Even though Evangeline was the Browns’ scullery maid, she appeared to be the closest thing to a maternal figure to the children with her being quick to stop their fights and take care of them. The children have no problems with Evangeline becoming their new stepmother.

  • Pie in the Face:
    • Wedding cake in the face, actually. Aunt Adelaide is too proper to throw food herself, so she has her servant throw on her behalf.
    • Mr. Jowls smashes a cake into Mr. Wheen's face, smearing it around, when the latter laughs at his getting food thrown at him.

  • Playing Sick:
    • So that they can stay in bed, instead of having to get up for classes, the children pretend to have the measles. Nanny McPhee makes their feigned illness real.

  • Politeness Judo: Nanny McPhee utilizes this on occasion to throw adults off her supernatural aspects, like claiming she knocked whenever she teleports into a room because the person in the room would never want to accuse her of barging in, or gaining entry to the Brown household by catching Cedric off-guard with a direct request to come in.

  • Punny Name: Selma Quickly's surname, given that Cedric is under a short deadline to marry and she is the only available option. As Cedric puts it with dread, "I shall have to marry... Quickly."

  • 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, Nanny McPhee makes it impossible for them to stop, to the point of risking serious damage, until they verbally and politely express the desire to stop and apologize.
    • When they pretend to be sick to stay in bed all day, Nanny McPhee will make them sick for real and magically bind them to their beds, requiring disgusting medicine and soup to heal, making their sick day no picnic. These methods soon earn the respect and obedience of the children.

  • Rags to Riches: Evangeline, who gets taken in by Aunt Adelaide in place of one of the children. She also undergoes this later when she marries Cedric, going from a scullery maid to the lady of the house.

  • Remarrying for Your Kids: Cedric Brown's necessity to get remarried after his wife's death, due to his aunt-in-law promising to cut off his financial support if he does not find another wife by the end of the month. By the end of the movie, he marries Evangeline.

  • Revolting Rescue: In the sequel, Eidelwiess the talking crow accidentally saves Uncle Phil by burping so hard he blows Phil's would-be killers away.

  • Running Gag: "I did knock", which Nanny McPhee uses to disarm people who have noticed her instantaneous appearance into a room.

  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Evangeline. Though the effect is only acknowledged by the children; Cedric, who has been attracted to Evangeline even before, says she's always looked like that.

  • Signature Instrument: Aggie the baby is always seen with a rattle that's very special because her now-dead mother gave it to her. At one point, the evil would-be stepmother Mrs. Quickly breaks it, but then it falls from the sky intact at the climax. Decades later, when Aggie is an old woman, it's revealed that she kept it as a cherished treasure.

  • Snow Means Love: At the end of the film, Nanny McPhee summons snow that magically cleans up the yard and removes the garish colors for the wedding of Cedric and Evangeline.

  • Social Climber: 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-in-law is Lady Adelaide Stitch. When she finally meets Lady Adelaide, Mrs. Quickly goes into extreme Professional Butt-Kisser mode.

  • Soup Is Medicine: Ms. Blatherwick, the cook, claims that the best thing for an ill person is "best thin potato gruel with peelings in". However, the children hate it, being used to jellies, raspberry cordial and suchlike when they were previously ill, even if they weren't really ill at all.

  • 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 of Cedric's, despite actually being their scullery maid. This later happens again with similar circumstances: Cedric marries Evangeline when he realizes he cannot marry Mrs. Quickly, his seeming only option.
    • Cedric Brown, when it seems impossible for him to find a new wife in the same day, after, Selma Quickly abandons him and the wedding altogether, ends up marrying Evangeline, his scullery maid instead.

  • Trickster Mentor:
    • Nanny McPhee always has five lessons to teach. What exactly those lessons turn out to be, and even anything else the people she helps may learn, is another matter.
    • While she typically goes to households with troublesome children and helps them become better, she knows when going hands-off and letting the children act on their desires can be instructive in its own right. For example, she allows Simon and his siblings to drive Mrs. Quickly away with their pranks so that they would learn the consequences (and that the aftermath results in opened communication about why Cedric is marrying again is another welcome result).
    • 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).

  • Tough Love: Nanny McPhee’s tactics for teaching the children to be better is by being hard, which made them actually sick and she treated them as one would with sick children like giving them medicine and having them eat thin potato gruel (with peelings in).

  • 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.)

  • Unconventional Food Usage: When the kids are Playing Sick, they use pepper to make them sneeze.

  • 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 sister to be hurled into a pot of boiling water against his other siblings' will. Naturally, everyone is screaming at him to suck it up and apologize until he does so.

  • Why Waste a Wedding?: After running off Selma Quickly, and a fix-up from Nanny McPhee, Cedric and Evangeline use the wedding to get married.

  • Wicked Stepmother: The Brown siblings chase away their father's prospects because they believe in this trope, and don't understand that Cedric has no other choice if he wants to get enough money from his aunt to support his family. Played straight with Selma Quickly, who would really would have been a rotten stepmother, had she actually married Mr. Brown. Subverted by Evangeline becoming the kids' stepmother, for whomst the trope "most emphatically does not apply".

  • Wicked Witch: Nanny McPhee takes 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 gnarled magic stick. Of course, she's not actually evil and her elements of her witchlike appearance decrease as the families learn.


Video Example(s):


Nanny McPhee's first warning

Nanny McPhee introduces herself to the naughty children. When they try to ignore her commands to play in the kitchen all night long, she produces her staff, scaring everyone in the room as she prepares a spell.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

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