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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 Nurse Matilda books, there even more children in the Brown family. 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 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.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Evangeline is young enough to be passed off as Cedric's daughter (though, admittedly, towards Aunt Adelaide, who's both short-sighted and not particularly attentive towards Cedric and his children as individuals). Even early in the movie, when Cedric is mostly caught up in his own head, it's made pretty clear that he and Evangeline have taken a shine to each other.
  • 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. Nanny McPhee gives their act a magical push and the pretend bees start to agitate the other guests.
  • 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 = 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 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.
  • 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 they were sent to the countryside...
  • Bratty Half-Pint: In both films, with Simon and Celia starting as the worst in each.
  • 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 turns out to be Aggie, the youngest Brown child from the previous movie.
  • Copycat Mockery: When sabotaging the wedding, two of the kids put on wigs that resemble Mrs. Quickly's hair and copy her line about calling them "small things" from earlier.
  • 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 cook, and believes children won't get anywhere eating fancy food.
  • "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, as she departs at 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 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 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 Green family in the sequel is missing the father, who is away at war and out of contact with them.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: Faked by Celia in the sequel to keep her aunt Isabel from signing Phil's contract to sell the farm.
  • 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.
  • Eureka Moment: The kids in the second film have one when they realize it wasn't some military tech or gas that Nanny McPhee used on them, but magic.
  • 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.
    • 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. She failed, however, to define an acceptable wife.
  • 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 charges from the past. So was old Mrs. Docherty— known as Agatha/Aggie Brown before her marriage.
  • 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 him 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 shock, 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.
  • 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 quarreling 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Kicking My Own Butt: In the sequel, Nanny McPhee casts a spell on the Greens and their cousins, which causes them to fight themselves rather than each other. She promises to lift the spell if they apologize for hurting each other.
  • Kids Play Matchmaker: A sub-plot involves the kids' father being single and his snobby aunt-in-law Adelaide saying that he needs a new wife and trying to force him to marry an awful 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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. Her death is crucial to the plot as her aunt is threatening to cut off Cedric unless he marries before Adelaide’s deadline ends.
  • 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 was her first ever children's book and it takes the form of a movie filming diary mixed in with the actual story.
  • 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.
  • Not So Above It All:
    • While she was sent to straighten out the Brown children, Nanny McPhee allows a little mischief to take place during the wedding and seemed to have participated in the bee scare. Although, it may be because she knew Mrs. Quickly would be an unfit stepmother to the children and was okay with the children driving her away a second time.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Pet the Dog: Cyril and Celia’s butler is just as pompous as they are and wants to leave them behind as fast as possible, but when he returns to give them some unfortunate news involving their parents he is much softer to them and even seems to be on the verge of tears showing he does care for their well-being.
  • Phrase Catcher: 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 out of nowhere.
  • Pie in the Face: Or wedding cake in the face, actually. Aunt Adelaide is too proper to throw food herself, so she has her servant throw on her behalf.
  • Playing Sick:
    • The children pretend to have the measles with 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.
    • They also pretend to be attacked by bees at the wedding. It, too, becomes more real and suceeds.
    • 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 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. If they say they'd rather share their beds with animals instead of their cousins, they get to enjoy cuddling with a cow or baby 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 his aunt promising to cut off his financial support if he does not find another wife. 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 McPhee's standard greeting in the second film.
  • 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.
  • 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, the cook, 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 of Cedric's despite actually being their 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". The American title averts this.
  • 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 typically goes to households with troublesome children and helps them become better, she tends to let them do things their way as a learning experience. For example, she allowed Simon and his siblings to drive Mrs. Quickly away with their pranks so that they would realize how wrong their actions were and for them to make things right.
    • 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 a little harsher than one expects. When the Brown children pretended to be sick, she casted a spell on them, which made them actually sick and she treated them as one would with sick children like giving them medicine and having them eat soup.
  • 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 against his siblings' will. Naturally, everyone is screaming at him to suck it up and apologize.
  • 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 in that Selma Quickly really 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 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 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 with an unexploded bomb.


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