Nanny McPhee is such a delightful movie that the audience applauds when it is over, a rare feat for the modern cinema. Combining thematic elements from Cinderella, My Fair Lady, and Mary Poppins, whipping them into one heart-warming story, Nanny McPhee succeeds in capturing the hearts of young and old alike.
The story begins with the empty chair. "For if the chair were not empty, there would be no story", states the narrator. The story begins, therefore, with death. Death is really separation ; all the Brown family has been separated by the death of Mrs. Brown: husband from wife, children from mother, father with children. It is no surprise then that death permeates the household. Mr. Brown toils in a funeral parlor, while the seven children have become adept at killing off their nannies. Hanging outside the house is a skull and crossbones flag symbolic of the "death sentence" the family is under. For if Mr. Brown does not marry and fill the empty chair within the month, the family will be dissolved, dispersed, separated perhaps forever.
Amidst all the death, despair and desperation, one quiet, gentle character is introduced. Evangeline is the humble scullery maid, the lowest member of the household. She is Cinderella and Eliza Doolittle rolled into one. Her name, Evangeline, is Greek for "good news" and is derived from "Evangel", the term that came to be used for the Gospels, the four New Testament accounts of Christ's life. It is no wonder then that she volunteers to exchange her life for Christiana1, the "chosen one", thus saving her from the grasp of Lady Adelaide Stitch, who, by the way, is the one holding the death sentence over the family.
The star of the film is the mysterious Nanny McPhee. Who is she? Well obviously, she is the Mary Poppins figure, but what is with her weird appearance and incredible transformation? Perhaps the answer to her identity lies in these verses:
"See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you their angels in heaven continually
behold the face of My Father Who is in heaven." Matthews 18:10
"Are not all ministering spirits (angels), sent out to render service for the sake
of those who will inherit salvation?" Hebrews 1:14
"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained
angels without knowing it." Hebrews 13:2
Do you think it impossible that Nanny McPhee is the children's guardian angel? Well, the film is a collaboration between Universal, Working Title, and Three Strange Angels; and someone there thought it clever enough to have three flashing hall lights on at the moment Nanny McPhee is introduced.
As for her physical transformation, it is obviously tied to the children's behavior transformation. As they lose their rebellion, anger, fear, and resentment, Nanny McPhee loses her warts, nose, pounds, and tooth. Nanny McPhee is unveiled for who she truly is - a beautiful sent one who renders help to those who are the very least in the Kingdom of God - the children.
The end of the film can only be described as glorious. We see the obvious of good triumph over evil; the proud are humiliated and the lowly are exalted. It is a hilarious good time of cake throwing, evil stepmother bashing, and a fun loving free-for-all; yet it is more, so much more.
What touches the audience in these last scenes and makes them want to applaud is the truth of something much older and deeper locked within their own heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11). It is the desire to be set free from an evil curse, to be delivered from bondage to a law and delivered from being under the power of a harsh taskmaster. To have the lowly one, the scullery maid, unveiled as the glorious bride. To have the creation cleansed and made pure as freshly fallen snow in August. And to have everything broken by evil made whole, made new2. This is the Grand Restoration that will one day be for all who have heard the Evangel - "the Good News" - and received it.3
You may not look like the bride, but.....You will.
You may not be to the end of the story.....No need, you are the end of that story!
1. Christiana means "Anointed Christian".
2. Baby Agatha's rattle has bells. Agatha means "good", and Saint Agatha was a 3rd century Christian martyr that became the patron saint of bell ringers.
3. For further insights into the Grand Restoration and how it relates to the Evangel, we recommend the little book, Epic, by John Eldredge. You may check it out at http://www.epicreality.com/.