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Creating The World Of Nanny McPhee
The story is set sometime in late Victorian/early Edwardian England, in a small village on the edge of London. A non-specific fairytale period without rigorous dedication to any single era liberated Jones and production designer Michael Howells to create an imagined world for Nanny McPhee. "It's late Victorian, but it's a picture-book Victorian,” Howells describes. "We weren't tied down to any specific dates, which is actually quite nice.”

Jones created an environment in which Howells, director of photography Henry Braham, costume designer Nic Ede, and hair and makeup designer Peter King could collaborate with unprecedented creative freedom. "I think the four departments have come together incredibly successfully, and often you don't find that,” says director Jones.

A large portion of that freedom was expressed through the use of colors in the film—a vivid mix of blues, greens, reds, purples and pinks. Howells, says Jones, "has gone completely bonkers. That's Michael's genius.”

Director of photography Henry Braham, who had worked with Jones on Waking Ned Devine, elected to use a new film stock, which would be best suited to the strong use of colors. "We hit upon this idea very early on,” says Braham. "This is an extreme version of color photography because we're using very saturated color in every area of design. But there needs to be some reality for the magic to work. Those elements bind together to create a kind of magical, and I suppose timeless, world.” "

Most period English movies seem to have a palette that runs the gamut from black to brown,” jokes producer Doran. "It's as though color wasn't invented until sometime after Dickens died. Kirk said, ‘I want to make a movie with bold colors,' and that's exactly what he did.”

The Brown home, a rambling mansion in the hands of a family with neither the time nor the income to maintain it, is the primary setting for the film. In serving Jones's desire for "a really fun place to grow up in,” Howells says he and his team "used a real mishmash of architecture, pulling favorite details from all over the world—little bits of French Colonial, steamboat gothic, Victorian gothic, and arts and crafts.”

After considering their options, the filmmakers decided to build the Brown house and surrounding village from scratch. Director Jones offers, "If you build the sets, if you can pan and reveal how the sets relate to each other, that can only help the audience believe the world you have created. And it seemed absurd to travel to pre-existing locations which would be nowhere near as visually interesting as what Michael could design.”

After looking at two other locations, the filmmakers discovered the perfect blank canvas on which to create the world of Nanny McPhee: the sprawling grounds of a private estate in Penn, Buckinghamshire. "It was pouring with rain and very foggy on the day we first visited the Penn estate,” remembers Doran. "I looked over at Kirk and Henry and Michael and they were all smiling these enormous smiles. This was the place. And when you see the film, you have to struggle to keep this in mind—that every single thing you see, everything except the largest trees, was put there for the filming.”

Howells relished the opportunity to create a wild garden on the estate. The team planted hundreds of smaller trees, dense shrubbery, thousands upon thousands of flowers, and built a tree house, a pigpen, a chicken coop, an arbor and a greenhouse. Explains Howells, "We wanted to create a child's dream garden—a perfect garden with places to hide and places to play. It's a magic place.”

Extraordinary attention to detail is made evident inside the Brown house in the sourcing of elaborate wallpapers, exquisite fabrics, period furniture and authentic props. Mr. Brown's study was designed to accommodate the Rube Goldbergian tricks the children spring on Mrs. Quickly during her tea with Mr.


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