The Wave, Jan 25 - Feb 7, 2006, by Fred Topel

Firth Things First


We cover a British kids' movie because it's January and there's nothing else

Colin Firth is best known for playing the inarticulate nice guy in Bridget Jones’ Diary. His new movie might be thought of as a continuation: Bridget Jones dies and leaves Firth alone with seven unruly children. Whatever is a nice guy to do?

The answer: Hire a magical nanny, of course. The nanny (Emma Thompson) whips the kids into shape, Mary Poppins-style, while Firth tries to find a wife so that his great aunt won’t stop his trust fund. Because, of course, it would be better to force the kids to live with a desperate gold digger than a single father. Those darn British.

How do you discipline unruly children? Do you believe in a good spanking?
I have learned that there are no answers. I have a very good answer when the children are not your own, which is give them to someone else. Part of the joy of doing this film was that if the going got tough, I’d just walk away. [With my kids,] nothing works. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to.

Did you walk away from this gang a few times?
Oh, yeah. I mean, not because they’re necessarily unruly. It’s just that you have seven or eight kids away from the bounds of their normal living constraints. A lot of the time, they didn’t have a parent with them. There’s always somebody there legally, but they weren’t in a schoolroom, they were in a kind of very hyper-stimulating situation, being asked to perform and being given hugely unhealthy amounts of attention. And that’s a pretty deadly cocktail with eight kids.

The film ends with a disastrous wedding. Ever had a bad wedding experience?
I’m not a big fan of other people’s weddings. I always find them slightly depressing. It makes me sound a bit of a curmudgeon, but everyone else is weeping because they’re moved, and I’m sort of weeping from despair and boredom.

Why did you want to do a kids’ movie?
I can’t remember. I can remember things that appealed to me. I don’t know what order they occurred. I don’t know if I thought, “I want to do a family comedy” first, and then the good one came along, or whether I thought, “This is good, and it happens to be a family comedy.” I liked the fact that it wasn’t trying to be hip. I don’t mind the children’s films that have the kind of urbane witty references for the adults. That’s fine, but I did like to see one that didn’t go for that, that was unashamedly old-fashioned. Just, basically, that it allowed itself to have a kind of cozy feeling of old, familiar nursery-parlor fairy tales.

What will the kids learn from this?
I don’t go for messages as messages. We can’t prescribe what people take away from the film, I don’t think. But definitely I think that it is a picture of a life starting over when it seems like it’s hopeless. It’s a picture of problems getting solved. In this film, there’s a magic person who makes it snow and provides a wedding veil. Nevertheless, the people who shed tears in that moment – and there are quite a lot of them in the audience – are doing so because they yearn for things to have a rebirth, and to find hope after despair when they don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.

You take a pie to the face like the best of them.
That was fun, but what wasn’t fun was the extraordinary popularity of the job of throwing the pie at the leading actor. I’ve noticed, not just on this film, but on almost every job I’ve ever done, if something humiliating has to happen to me and any assistance is needed, the line of volunteers is huge. Very often, because rank is pulled, it’s the director who actually is the one to throw the porridge, stand next to the camera and make sure that the pie/cake hit.

What does that tell you?
Exactly. You can draw your own conclusions. I don’t dwell on it.

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