Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Lessons of Nanny McPhee

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Lessons of Nanny McPhee

Article excerpt


JUST a spoonful of sugar to help the unpalatable stuff go down was Mary Poppins's recipe for rearing children. Poor Mary.

These days, she'd get a custodial sentence for supplying refined substances to minors.

Yet, as the Government threatens to extend anti- social behaviour orders to the under-10s and please and thank-you become rarer than giant squids, our appetite only grows for strong-minded characters to supply the medicine that will make things better.

The latest is Emma Thompson's Nanny McPhee, a snaggletoothed senior built like a rock cake, who is brought in to restore order to a family of seven motherless tearaways. With one tap of her walking stick, Nanny McPhee can turn an Asbo into an angel. She should be available on the NHS.

In the Nurse Matilda books, on which the movie is based, the mother simply can't see any fault in her little darlings. The story holds up a mirror to liberal parenting in which, if we are honest, many of us can glimpse our own harassed reflections.

Anxious not to be stern, neurosis-inducing Victorians, we have set ourselves the goal of being liked. Emma Thompson, who has a daughter herself, sums up this approach: "We used to shout more, but it doesn't work. So now I just stride around going, 'That telly is going!' Then I don't follow through, which I'm sure is disastrous. But ... what can I do?"

Nanny McPhee, like TV Supernanny Jo Frost, believes the answer is the three Rs: routine, rules and no rudeness. One reason Supernanny has become a guilty pleasure for thousands of mums is because it's so wonderfully relaxing to see a twoyearold tyrannising someone else.

Compared with these Pol Potties, our own tricky offspring seem like milky Mussolinis who only want to get Thomas the Tank Engine to run on time.

What happens to the Pol Potties if you don't nail the problem when they're little? Watch The Unteachables. The Channel 4 series has taken a handful of the 140,000 kids excluded from school each year and put them in a study camp where they are exposed to gifted teachers, rigid rules and the unfamiliar notion that respect is something you have to give in order to receive.

Thirteen-year-old Grace has never met anyone like headmaster William Anderson. A cross between Morgan Freeman and Moses, Mr Anderson would strike awe into the flintiest heart. But not Grace. "You're shit," she tells him confidently.

"You can't teach to save your f*****g life."

Grace is sent home to her parents Samantha and Simon. They live in a nice house, not a slum.

They don't seem ashamed of their "nightmare" daughter.

They don't realise that by failing to teach Grace any manners they have blighted her life. "We're quite a headstrong family if we're honest," laugh Samantha and Simon. …

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