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NANNY MCPHEE

About The Production
Emma Thompson and Lindsay Doran have been working together as a screenwriting/producing team since 1990, when they met on the production of Dead Again—which Thompson starred in and Doran produced. At the time, Doran was in the 10th year of her search for someone to adapt Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility into a feature film. When she saw episodes of a comedy television series that Thompson had written (titled, appropriately, Thompson), she felt sure she had found the right person for the adaptation, even though Thompson had never written a feature screenplay.

Being a devotee of Austen's work, Thompson took the assignment just as she was finishing up her Dead Again role, and five years later Sense and Sensibility was released. The critical and box-office hit was nominated for seven Academy Awards®, including Best Picture, and won Thompson the Oscar® for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film also won Golden Globe Awards for Best Screenplay and Best Picture–Drama and the Best Film award from BAFTA.

"Emma is an extraordinary writer,” says Doran. "She has a wonderful sense of both comic and dramatic rhythms, and her writing can be heartbreakingly emotional without ever being sentimental. She also has a remarkable ability to write period language in a way that feels absolutely accurate, while at the same time being accessible to the modern ear. Even her stage directions are delicious to read. Every word is considered and precisely chosen.”

Following their experience on Sense and Sensibility, Thompson and Doran were hoping they could find another passion project. Though they often contacted one another with ideas, nothing lit a fire with either of them until Thompson told Doran about the Nurse Matilda series of English children's books over lunch in 1997.

"I found the books on my bookshelf,” Thompson says. "They weren't my main fare, but I loved them and I loved the illustrations. The books were very dry and witty and dark, but also very sweet.”

"Emma told me the most basic premise of the story at that lunch,” Doran notes. "And without hearing anything else, without reading the books, without knowing anything except what she told me that day, I thought it was a terrific idea for a movie. As the days went by, the basic concept kept growing on me. I kept thinking about how this would work and how that could work and how it could be funny and how it could be emotional. For me, that's the best way to begin the development process—in a state of high excitement and enthusiasm.”

After tracking down the three out-of-print books (Nurse Matilda, Nurse Matilda Goes to Town, and Nurse Matilda Goes to Hospital), Doran—who was by that time president of United Artists Pictures—optioned them for Thompson to adapt. The development of Nanny McPhee had begun.

The books, written in the 1960s and 1970s by Christianna Brand, were based on tales passed down orally for generations through the author's family. They recount the legend of an unsettling-looking magical nanny who tames a large family of extremely unruly children. She uses magic to teach them lessons, and as they learn the lessons her appearance seems to change. Christianna Brand, an award-winning mystery writer, first wrote about the character in her anthology Naughty Children (illustrated by her cousin, the famous children's book illustrator Edward Ardizzone), and then later in her three books.

The books contained a rich well of material that resonated with Thompson and Doran, who both felt that the characters, situations and relationships had universal appeal. "What parents would not want to have somebody around who could bang a stick and make their children good?” asks Doran. "And what group of children wouldn't want a magical person to come into their house, even if they were on the wrong end of her magic for a while? It's just fun to have somebody around who can bang a stick and make a donkey dance.” <

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