Home > Reviews > NANNY McPHEE – Patrick Doyle

NANNY McPHEE – Patrick Doyle

January 27, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Peter Simons and Jonathan Broxton

A Mary Poppins fantasy for the modern age, Nanny McPhee is based on Christianna Brand’s successful series of Nurse Matilda children’s books, adapted for the screen by actress Emma Thompson. Thompson herself plays the titular nanny, a hook-nosed, wart-faced, fright-wigged governess who uses magic and good humour to control the children in her charge. Newly-widowed Cedric Brown (Colin Firth) is failing to control his seven children, who have already chased away 17 nannies with their unruly behaviour. However, when a mysterious voice urges Cedric to hire Nanny McPhee, she arrives at the Brown home quickly stamps her authority over hew new charges. Things seem to finally be settling down, until trouble erupts when Cedric’s cantankerous Great-Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) tells him he must be married by the end of the month, or she’ll cut off his money and separate the children – so Nanny McPhee and the oldest Brown sibling Simon (Thomas Sangster) team up to find a wife for Cedric, thereby keeping the family together. The film, directed by Kirk Jones, has a supporting cast full of heavyweight British thespians (including Derek Jacobi, Imelda Staunton, Celia Imrie, and Kelly Macdonald), and features a delightful, whimsical score by Patrick Doyle.

A period piece for harpsichord, bassoon and tuba provides an odd kick off to the score, though it soon makes way for lively, circus like music. This opening cue, “They’ve Eaten The Baby!”, sets the tone for much of what follows, and immediately establishes that Nanny McPhee focuses much more on the comedy aspects of the film than on the fantasy. With the second track, “No More Nannies”, we find ourselves in Elfman-territory, replete with bouncy rhythms, and extensive use of celesta and soft choir. A rather melancholy tune for lower woodwind instruments and slow strings makes up the bulk of “Secret Toast and Jam”, before Doyle introduces his mesmerizing main theme in the second half of this cue, here performed by oboe and clarinet. It’s a theme that brings to mind the works of James Horner from the late 80s or early 90s, when he still scored the occasional animated feature, and recalls great works such as The Land Before Time, or even Cocoon. “A Clockwork Mouse” sounds like it is continually building up to an event that is eventually not scored. It’s pleasantly teasing, yet not quite giving you what you want.

“The Pink Chair” features a heart-warming, almost Morricone-like piano-and-strings rendition of the melancholy theme which was introduced in the first half of “Secret Toast and Jam”, before almost unnoticeably segueing into “I Did Knock”, which is easily one of the score’s highlights. Combining mysterious chords for an Elfmanesque choir with Hornerish cello writing, it is ultimately, quintessential, Doyle. It’s undeniably a rather menacing and sinister cue, with brass crescendos and harp glissandi, but Doyle always keeps it light and transparent, never pushing it too far over to the dark side, even when the strings start to swell ominously and the brass section is ferociously racing up and down the scales. “Goodnight Children” is, for the most, as innocent as you’d expect it to be. It’s a fun little cue with a typical Doyle melody that is continually interrupted by bouncy pizzicato strings, soft woodwind or brass stringers. It’s a fairly repetitive cue, and it could easily have a boring exercise, but Doyle keeps playing around with the orchestration, keeping you on the edge of your seat waiting for what is to come.

A couple of short cues, which don’t contain any of the score’s main themes, fill the void between “Goodnight Children” and “The Girl in the Carriage”. “Measle Medicine” combines soft strings which keep pitching down as if to indicate ailing health, interspersed with some fat brass writing; while “Soup du Jour” is a nice little comedic cue for strings, brass and marimba. “Barnyard Fashion” is an odd little cue that sounds like a cross between a circus act and Russian march, whereas “Lord of the Donkeys” sees Doyle in full out Irish folklore mode. In the aforementioned “The Girl in the Carriage”, the soundtrack’s main theme makes a very welcome and emotional return, though the cue begins in rather militaristic fashion with snare drums accompanying a string arpeggio. The nostalgic mood is continued through the wonderfully lush “Kites in the Sky” and the mysterious “The Room at the Top of the Stairs”, which sees Doyle wandering off into Elfman-territory again. It’s only a small underscoring cue for surging strings and enticing chimes and celesta, but it is brilliantly executed.

Unsurprisingly, “Toad in the Teapot” is heavy on zaniness, and is as such not the most coherent or interesting track. It is quickly forgotten when the melancholic and beautifully understated “Our Last Chance” takes centre stage, which is, by pure coincidence, quite closely related to some of Elfman’s thematic work on his recently released “Corpse Bride”. Mae McKenna wooingly performs “Mrs Brown’s Lullaby”, a variation on the main theme with lyrics by Emma Thompson. “The Lady in Blue” would have made a very satisfying finale for this album, with its tender woodwind performance of the Horner-inspired main theme, was it not for the fact that Doyle has two more cues in store for us. And what cues they are! “Bees and Cakes” contains some lively writing for strings, as well as a show-stopping carnival-esque tune for saxophones, but ultimately it is “Snow in August” that will be playing in your mind’s ear long after the album has ended. At a whopping 7 minutes, it sees Doyle – with all due respect to the Scottish lad – go all the way on the Hornerish sentiments and Elfmanesque orchestrations. There are dramatic crescendos and cymbal clashes aplenty in this powerful track which, through its orchestrations, sounds like a close cousin of Edward Scissorhands, though Doyle thankfully refrains from copying that oft-plagiarised theme. The only thing that plagues this glorious finale is a really painful cut, about three quarters of a minute before the end. If it is intentional, it doesn’t make sense. If it is accidental, it’s a grave oversight.

After a series of small scale scores, or big scores for un-seen movies (honestly, who has seen Nouvelle France?) it’s a pleasure to see Doyle back in action with a full orchestra and choir. Nanny McPhee manages to deliver a number of stand-out cues, and should appeal to all fans of Doyle, and “old style” Horner and Elfman. While the album overall just slightly misses the devilish charm of Corpse Bride, or the energy of Wallace & Gromit, Nanny McPhee is not to be overlooked. When you consider his work on this score, and the brilliant Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the Scotsman is hitting a rich vein of form, and we could be in for an unforgettable treat with whatever he scores next.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • They’ve Eaten the Baby! (2:42)
  • No More Nannies (1:24)
  • Secret Toast and Jam (2:30)
  • A Clockwork Mouse (1:04)
  • The Pink Chair (1:00)
  • I Did Knock (6:02)
  • Goodnight, Children (4:25)
  • Measle Medicine (1:31)
  • Soup du Jour (1:11)
  • I Smell Damp (1:40)
  • Barnyard Fashion (1:37)
  • Lord of the Donkeys (0:39)
  • The Girl in the Carriage (3:20)
  • Kites in the Sky (2:26)
  • The Room at the Top of the Stairs (1:44)
  • Toad in the Teapot (3:40)
  • Our Last Chance (2:17)
  • Mrs Brown’s Lullaby (written by Patrick Doyle and Emma Thompson, performed by Mae McKenna) (1:20)
  • The Lady in Blue (2:04)
  • Bees and Cakes (3:46)
  • Snow in August (7:03)

Running Time: 53 minutes 25 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6690 (2005)

Music composed by Patrick Doyle. Conducted by James Shearman. Orchestrations by Patrick Doyle, James Shearman and Larry Ashmore. Recorded and mixed by Nick Wollage. Mastered by Andy Walter. Album produced by Patrick Doyle and Maggie Rodford.

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