|Excerpt from Emma
Thompson's Nanny McPhee Diary
April 14 Colin Firth and Kelly Macdonald (the scullery maid Evangeline) working so well together, hardly surprising since they’re old mates. Colin, who has come to us from a series of more serious pieces, has to be dragged from the dramatic into comic exaggeration like someone being pulled from a pit. He is teased mercilessly. He and Kelly are so approachable and don’t seem to mind interference (mine). and much interesting discussion grows out of our efforts to make this piece light-footed yet deeply emotional; funny yet real.
6:40pm: Colin had to ‘skitter’—that’s what it says in the script, anyway. It means rushing back and forth in a panicky fashion. ‘I don’t like skittering,’ he said, finally. We live like troglodytes in the dusty darkness.
April 27 I am in heaven. I am in an orchard next to Mrs Quickly’s house. The children are playing with some geese. Colin jumped over a bush to grab Evangeline, and in his green frock coat he looks like a gigantic frog. Then he smoulders most
effectively at her, which gave me a fright after all the comic invention. I suddenly remembered he’s a sex symbol.
[More from the excerpt here]
Sex on legs! Me?
(Daily Record, Oct 21, 2005, by John Millar)
No doubt it was with his
younger sons in mind that he agreed to star in Nanny McPhee and
experience his first big screen slapstick when he gets involved in a
frantic and messy pie fight. He said: "I can't imagine that it is ever
going to happen again.
It's Nanny McMe
(Daily Record, Oct 12, 2005, by Rick Fulton)
...Nanny McPhee may be back again. Emma said: "Let's see how this one goes, but I have one up my sleeve if we think that people want it."
Beneath the skin
(Telegraph, Sept 19, 2005, by Justine Picardie)
Picture this: a beautifully bucolic scene in the English countryside, deep in the heart of a Buckinghamshire estate. A film crew has taken up residence among the oak trees and the sheep; Colin Firth is looking as manfully attractive as you would expect in period breeches and white shirt; Kelly Macdonald by his side, sweetly pretty in crinoline and curls.
The sky is blue above the fairytale Victoriana of a turreted house, and children play in the rambling garden beyond, amid sweetpeas and roses. And suddenly, into the sunshine and smiles, comes an extraordinarily ugly figure; black-clad and warty, with a bulbous potato nose and a yellowing tombstone tooth.
Here, then, is Emma Thompson in her latest incarnation, as Nanny McPhee, the star of the film of the same name; and performing her own screenplay, which has taken seven years to write, based on the original series of Nurse Matilda books by Christianna Brand. Although this is not Thompson's first script—she won an Oscar for her adaptation in 1995 of Sense and Sensibility, commissioned by the Hollywood producer Lindsay Doran, now her long-time collaborator on Nanny McPhee—it is the first created entirely of her own volition.
'And it's been a pig to do,' she says during a brief break from filming, squeezing her vastly padded black dress into a chair behind a hedge. 'There were many points in the writing when I thought, I can't find a way through this, I don't know how to make it work, there's no plot.' As for finding the subsequent $27 million to make the film, 'it was so hard, like pushing shit uphill with a matchstick'.
Why, then, one wonders, has Thompson chosen this character, this hideously unattractive creation?...
'Why do it?' she says, having judiciously removed her fake tooth for the duration of our conversation, though not her prosthetic nose and warts. 'After my daughter was born, I've chosen to play an angry angel, a tortured woman and a monstrously ugly nanny. [...]
But if Thompson has always resisted the simplicities attached to being a straightforward film star (preferring the complexity, instead, of a shifting and ambiguously plotted career), Nurse Matilda was nevertheless not an obvious book for her to turn to in search of a new project. 'I'd like to be able to say it was an integral part of my childhood,' she remarks, 'because it was first published in 1964, when I was five, but though I'd read it as a child, I didn't have much memory of it. And when I came across my old copy, at some point in my thirties, I didn't pick it up as a devotee. But as I started re-reading it, I thought, hang on a minute, this will make a good script.'
Its central premise—that Nurse Matilda (renamed as Nanny McPhee to avoid confusion with Roald Dahl's Matilda) arrives to look after the naughtiest children imaginable—was an appealing one; but what the book didn't have, she readily admits, is much of a plot. 'So I had to invent one, and after three or four years of struggling with the script, I finally realised that I had to kill off the children's mother, Mrs Brown. Sadness is important in any story, particularly in stories for kids—and also, death makes you terribly angry, and the children in the film must be naughty for a reason, a real reason.'
Death crept into her script in other ways, too, with Mr Brown (played by Colin Firth) talking not only to his dead wife but also to the corpses at the funeral parlour where he works as an undertaker. 'He wasn't an undertaker at the beginning,' Thompson says, 'he used to go to the bank in my original script. But I thought it would be rather interesting, that thing of talking to the dead.' She pauses, and then says, 'My dad died when I was 21, but I might as well have been 12. I wanted to write something that he would have been proud of—I wanted this film to have made him laugh and smile... So he was very much on my mind when I was writing this script, but then he always is.' [...]
'The lesson that Nanny McPhee teaches the children,' she says, her voice level again, 'is that love is the thing that really matters, love is the thread that binds us, love is what makes the world go round.'
It is a message made marvellously real in the film, helped by the fact that Nanny McPhee is in no way saccharine; for death plays far too prominent a role here for anyone to forget that love brings with it the inevitability of loss. (As Lindsay Doran puts it, 'You can't water down that stuff. You have to kill Bambi's mother or put her in jail.') Which may go some way to explaining why the process of funding was so difficult, despite Doran's Hollywood pedigree, and Working Title's involvement, and its eminently bankable stars. 'Death is handled very matter-of-factly in the script,' says the director Kirk Jones (whose previous film, Waking Ned, also involves a significant corpse), 'and the scenes at the undertakers are funny, though the humour has a bit of an edge to it.'
What is also made clear is that Mr Brown must find a new wife, just 10 months after Mrs Brown's death in childbirth, in order to save his family from the workhouse. 'You can't avoid the fact that death and destruction are hanging over the family,' says Colin Firth, who plays Mr Brown with a marvellous combination of pathos and slapstick humour. 'So there are twists and edges to Emma's script—and yes, it's very funny, and bold, but it's occasionally frightening. And everyone will be able to relate to that—anyone with children feels the threat that lurks somewhere outside the door.'
Having seen a finished version of the film some months after my visit to the set, I am filled with admiration for what Thompson and her team have achieved: it's sophisticated enough to appeal to adults, as well as intuitively understanding of children, and deserves to be celebrated as a classic in years to come (not least for its reinvention of 'corpsing'; a theatrical term previously used to describe an actor's inappropriate and unscripted collapse into giggles, yet equally relevant, perhaps, as a description of this production's fearless conjunction of dead bodies and jokes). [...]
'I was on my knees by the end of shooting Nanny McPhee,' Thompson admits, with some reluctance, after running through her subsequent work schedule (finishing a new film script with Nick Hornby, entitled Fast Forward, which she describes as 'a love story for grown-ups'; then Chicago and more final editing on Nanny McPhee). [...]
'But it's interesting, now that I come to think of it,' she says, 'that when I started the script for Nanny McPhee all those years ago—not that long after my first marriage had ended—I was already with Greg, so I suppose it was faintly prophetic, wanting to do something that would appeal to children, writing about being a family.'
In the Nurse Matilda books, the Browns have too many offspring to count; 'so many of them', according to the narrator, 'that I shan't even tell you their names but leave you to sort them out as you go along, and add up how many there are'. Thompson's decision to reduce the number of their children to a more manageable seven came some time before her own pregnancy, following IVF, with Gaia; and it must have been soon after the birth that she made another, more significant departure from the original story, with the killing off of Mrs Brown; as if examining what it might mean to a family, for the very worst to happen.
Without wishing to give too much of the plot away, Nanny McPhee does have a happy ending. Life goes on, love is found, though Mrs Brown is not forgotten; and Nanny McPhee is revealed to be infinitely more beautiful than her first, monstrous appearance has suggested....
Interview with Director Kirk Jones
(July 20, 2005)
Nanny McPhee has been adapted from the Nurse Matilda books. Were you familiar with these books before you started on this project?
KJ: I had no knowledge of the books and don't remember them as a child but I made a point of researching them. They had some strong elements but in truth were not structured in a way, which made them prime candidates for adapting as a screenplay. Their structure was very loose, they meandered and although very charming and atmospheric they lacked a sense of drama and structure. Emma's script took the essence of the Nurse Matilda stories and featured many of the established characters but she interpreted them in a way which made the screenplay more dramatic, humorous and emotionally involving.
What was it that initially attracted you to Nanny McPhee?
KJ: It made me laugh and it moved me emotionally. It had a sense of theatre and magic, (aside from the practical magic) and it was a script that was full of detail and wonderful characters. Clearly well written and structured, I also sensed that it had been nurtured and developed over a period of time. It came as no surprise to learn that Emma had been working on the project with Lindsay Doran, the producer for a number of years.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in making this film?
KJ: Without a doubt it was working within the constraints of regulations placed upon the hours that child actors can work. We had children aged 8 months to 12 years, which meant that every day, every scene had to be planned in military fashion. I was aware of when the babies needed feeding, when they needed a sleep and when they needed their nappies changed. With the older children, each day was planned around their breaks, lessons, rest periods and maximum time that they could spend on set. My first assistant director, Gareth Tandy and his team deserve full credit for making the shoot run as smoothly as it did.
What was the most enjoyable part of the process?
KJ: Despite the added stress and restrictions related to working with children, when they actually arrived on set, it was a joy to capture their individual performances. Most of them hadn't acted before but they never failed to deliver moments, which were full of naive charm, character and humour. The food fight was the most fun scene to shoot; it was a much welcome relief to spend a couple of days throwing jelly, cakes and pies at each other. Emma, Colin, Imelda, Kelly and myself all joined in.
Did you stick to the script religiously, or did you improvise at all during filming?
KJ: Emma is the first to admit that if ideas develop on the shoot, if locations or schedule or characters develop in a way, which suggests changing the script, then it should be changed. The script exists to be improved, not protected. She isn't precious in that way, she is very open and generous to change if she considers it to be an improvement.
Angela Lansbury makes a welcome return to the big screen in Nanny McPhee. What was it like working with an actress of such immense experience?
KJ: I had grown up watching Angela in 'Gaslight', 'Blue Hawaii' with Elvis and 'Bed knobs and Broomsticks' and couldn't quite believe that she was cast in our film. When she walked on set the atmosphere changed, there was such an enormous amount of respect and admiration for her. I spoke to her before the shoot and asked if she would consider wearing a false nose. Having never worn prosthetics before she was a little unsure at fist but soon got used to the idea and I think, by the end of the shoot, got quite attached to her huge conk.
Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay and also stars in the film. What was it like working with a two-time Academy Award winner?
KJ: Nerve-wracking for the first 60 seconds but for the two years that followed it has been an absolute pleasure. Aside from being an exceptional actor and writer she is incredibly grounded and generous. Her understanding of story structure, the rhythm of dialogue and her ability to present period dialogue in a way, which feels completely contemporary, meant that I always had someone to refer to on set. Above all she is enormous fun to work with, and like me, she appreciates that making films doesn't have to be a seriously stressful process.
What elements do you think are important to emphasise in making a family film?
KJ: It's no different to making any film that you want to be entertaining, humorous and emotionally involving except that a family film has to appeal to a much wider audience, potentially ranging in age from 5 to 60 years. It is easy to overestimate the gulf between children's taste and that of their parents and grandparents in a modern world but in truth, we are all drawn to the experience of watching a great story unfold, no matter what our age.
Was the experience of working on Nanny McPhee what you expected?
KJ: It was what I hoped it would be. I knew I was working with sane, confident, talented people. I knew the script was in good shape and that we had assembled a great crew. I had faith in the children and in the adult cast. I had heard good things about Working Title and Universal. What could possibly have gone wrong!!!!
Being interviewed for The Edge of Reason DVD
Q: Can you tell us a little about Nanny McPhee?
Yes, Nanny McPhee is the film I did before the one I'm doing now. It was written by Emma Thompson, she's also in it, and it's for children. It's directed by Kirk Jones who did Waking Ned Divine. It's delightfully imaginative, as you can imagine from Emma Thompson. It's witty and very eccentric. I play a man who's living with some incredibly unruly children in a kind of 18th-19th century gothic story book world. The house looks a bit like the Psycho house. The children are incredibly naughty. They chase away every nanny who's ever tried to help raise them. I work as a make-up artist in a funeral parlour. I put blusher on corpses and that sort of thing. And I come home one day to find that the nanny has fled the house and that the children have eaten the baby. I have to go and get another nanny and nobody wants to work, then I hear this strange mysterious voice from behind the agency doors saying, "The person you need is Nanny McPhee." And one dark and stormy night this hideously ugly woman arrives at the door and glides into the house and says "I'm going to take over from here." And that's the set-up, basically, the magic nanny is played by Emma.
Q: Is there something of Mary Poppins in it?
Yes, there's is something of Mary Poppins of course. But Mary Poppins was not hideously ugly. It wasn't the same deal with the single father and the children weren't naughty. They're based on Nurse Matilda stories from the 50’s which are out of print. But yes, in so far as it's a magic nanny. It's very Mary Poppins but you'll be pleased to know I don't sing.
From Colin Firth talks interview
(Hollywood Movies, Oct 16. 2004, by Rebecca Murray
And you're also working with Emma Thompson on another movie?
Yes. It's something she wrote for children. It's called "Nanny McPhee." She's the nanny. She's in it as well.
So you're the father of the kids the nanny is taking care of?
Is it a romance, even though it's for children?
It's [is],yeah. It's romantic [and] it's partly comedy.
Do you take part in the special effects?
No, I'm sort of out of that. I'm a makeup artist in a funeral parlor. I make up corpses.
From Army Archerd
(Variety, July 19, 2004)
Angela Lansbury [will] next be seen on the bigscreen in "Nanny McPhee," which she recently completed with Emma Thompson and Colin Firth. She warns, "You won't recognize me. I have a huge, false nose and weird grey hair. It's a real departure for me," she laughed.
Mr Darcy's a Nanny's Boy!
spent the past year sexing up her image. He's just a sex symbol whether
he likes it or not. But with one flick of a casting director's pen,
Emma Thompson and Colin Firth have become dowdy, drab and distinctly
only has herself to blame. She wrote the screenplay of the film they're
staring [sic] in, Nanny McPhee.
Based on the series of Nurse Matilda
books, hugely popular with English children, Emma plays a magical Mary
Poppins-style governess and Colin is Mr Brown, father of the seven
misbehaving children she cares for.
again Colin is frocked up in period suits, à la his pulse-racing
role as Mr Darcy in Pride And
Prejudice. But the only sizzle in these
Dorset beach scenes was the thrill of him removing his shoes.
poor Emma, it takes three hours of make-up each day to transform her
into the frumpy McPhee, complete with an ugly prosthetic nose! But she
doesn't stay that way throughout—in the magical twist. Nanny's true
beauty shines through when her pesky charges behave. We suspect Mr
Brown may fall for Nanny, but there's no chance of passion in front of
all those kids!
pics from Australian Woman's Day magazine in the On Location Gallery.
Working Title is also into its fourth week of production at Pinewood on Nanny McPhee, a family comedy about a magical nanny who tames the naughtiest seven children in the world. The film is scripted by and stars Emma Thompson. Kirk Jones (Waking Ned) directs the film, which also stars Colin Firth, Angela Lansbury, Kelly Macdonald and Thomas Sangster. It heads to Dorset in southern England for some location shooting next week, and wraps on July 9.
Nanny McPhee starts shooting
Title is delighted to announce that Nanny McPhee,
has started principal photography. The family comedy stars Emma
The film is directed by Kirk Jones (Waking Ned) from a screenplay by Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility), adapted from the Nurse Matilda series of children's books by Christianna Brand. The film is produced by Lindsay Doran, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner. The co-producer is Glynis Murray. Universal Pictures will release Nanny McPhee worldwide.
Thompson stars in the title role as a nanny with
magical powers who enters the household of the recently widowed Mr
by Colin Firth (Girl With A Pearl Earring, Love Actually) and tames his
wayward children with astonishing results.
The film also stars Angela Lansbury (Beauty and the Beast, Murder, She Wrote) as Aunt Adelaide, Kelly MacDonald (JM Barrie's Neverland, Trainspotting) as Mr Brown's scullery maid Evangeline, and Thomas Sangster (Love Actually) as Simon, Mr Brown's eldest son. Newcomers Eliza Bennet, Jenny Daykin, Raphael Coleman, Sam Honywood, and Holly Gibbs play the younger Brown children.
The director of photography is Henry Braham (Bright Young Things, Waking Ned), the production designer is Michael Howells (Bright Young Things, Shackleton), the costume designer is Nic Ede (Bright Young Things, Relative Values), and the hair and make-up designer is Peter King (Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Quills). The score will be composed by Patrick Doyle (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Sense and Sensibility).
Nanny McPhee marks the third film that Thompson and Doran have made together. Doran also produced Sense and Sensibility, which won the Academy-Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Emma Thompson, and was nominated for six other Academy Awards including Best Picture. Doran also produced Dead Again, starring Thompson, Kenneth Branagh, and Robin Williams.
film will shoot for 14 weeks at Pinewood Studios and on
location in the UK.
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