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Patrick Doyle - Nanny McPhee - Soundtrack Review

Another Patrick Doyle score this week. I think it is quite strange that Doyle’s music to “A United Kingdom” will be released on CD not until February. The UK released date of the movie was in September, in the US, the movie will be released in February, and perhaps the producers want to release the score at the same time. Therefore, I want to discuss Doyle’s score for “Nanny McPhee” this week.

The movie.

“Nanny McPhee” is a family comedy fantasy film from 2005 based on the book “Nurse Matilda” by Christiana Brand. In the same year Doyle was hired to compose the music for the forth Harry Potter movie “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and took over after John Williams composed the music for the last three. I will discuss Doyle’s HP music in a few weeks.

Emma Thompson who also plays Nanny McPhee wrote the screenplay for “Nanny McPhee”. Author Christiana Brand wrote three books about the hideously ugly witch nursemaid known as Nurse Matilda who has been highly recommended to Mr. and Mrs. Brown by several agencies. Nurse Matilda arrives at the household and becomes a nanny to the Brown children. The children are "exceedingly naughty" and frighten off many governesses in a wonderfully mischievous way, until Nurse Matilda comes. She teaches the children to behave, and deals with the fearsome and Great Aunt Adelaide Stitch (played by the fabulous Angela Lansbury). In the end the children become good and decent, and Nurse Matilda leaves to attend another family of naughty children. Here is the trailer:

In the movie, Colin Firth is playing a newly widowed father who is clumsy, loves his children, but have no time for them and also has financial trouble. The children are giving him a hard time until hook-nosed McPhee arrives and teaches the kids to behave. The movie has some great funny moments, a good portion of romance and perhaps a little too much slapstick sometimes. In the end, Mr Brown founds his love, the kids are happy, McPhee lives, and the fairy tale is over. Some critics loved the movie so much that they considered “Nanny McPhee” as the new Mary Poppins, but the quality of both movies are not comparable. 2010, a sequel was released, but has nothing to do with the original one, and also Doyle did not compose the music.

The music

This kind of movie is perfect for Doyle and gives him a lot of chances to create funny music with musical slapstick, wonderful themes and melodies, and also a good amount of romantic music. I bought the soundtrack two years ago before even seeing the movie. A few weeks ago, I finally was able to see it decided to talk about the music this week.

The first track “They’ve eaten the Baby” starts with a very nice melody played mostly on the spinet, and after one minute the full orchestra burst in. This reminds you a little bit of Danny Elfman’s music for “Beetlejuice”, but Doyle is a far better composer. I like especially when Doyle uses after 1’50 a typical Dance Macabre motif for a few seconds before going back to a lovely tune. The first track is like a first track of a score should be: a reason to buy it and listen to the whole music.

I found the scene when Mr Brown meets Nanny McPhee:

With 21 tracks on the CD, I cannot discuss all of them. Let’s just say that track 2 “No More Nannies”, track 3 “Secret Toast and Jam”, and track 4 “A Clockwork Mouse” continues with the comical approach of the story. Doyle does a lot of musical mickey mousing here (listen to the Tuba in track 4), and with the short fifth track “The Pink Chair”, we have a wonderful quiet piece. One listener on YouTube said “this almost made me cry”, and true, this is a great musical approach to put the feeling of loneliness into notes.

Track 6 “I Did Knock” is for me the next highlight. Doyle uses all the various effects of an orchestra and especially some solo percussion instruments to create a truly magical atmosphere for one very important scene of the movie.

After Track 7 “Goodnight, Children” (great balance of strings and woodwinds here), track 8 “Measle Medicine” (a funny movie scene, but a track that I normally skip), track 9 “Soup Du Jour” (comical again), track 10 “I Smell Damp” (lovely melody before the brass section starts, a little choir also is used here), track 11 “Barnyard Fashion” (short and funny), track 12 “Lord of the Donkeys” (Irish folk), we have with track 13 “The Girl in the Carriage” a very emotional and romantic piece for another important scene of the movie. Tracks like these are the reasons I consider Doyle as one of the best film music composer these days.

After Track 14 “Kites in the Sky”, track 15 “The Room at the Top of the Stairs” (some magical moments again), track 16 “Toad in the Teapot” (lovely usage of the spinet again), track 17 “Our Last Chance” (romance again), track 18 “Mrs. Brown's Lullaby” (a song, I skip), track 19 “The Lady in Blue” (another lovely romantic piece), we have with track 20 “Bees and Cakes” the action track for the showdown, and with the last one “Snow in August” the longest track of the score that brings this album to a wonderful end. Doyle uses all his melodies in this great orchestrated piece. Some critics see in the usage of the choir similarity to Danny Elfman’s theme of “Edward Scissorhands, that might be true, but Doyle is not copying Elfman’s theme here.

Here is the music for "Snow in August":

You cannot find so many reviews of this score. That is really sad because comparing to other soundtracks out there which are more discussed, you have with “Nanny McPhee” an example of a real musical craftsman. The score is full of funny musical ideas, lovely melodies, great orchestration, the usage of different instruments that you do not hear so often in scores these days such as the tuba and the spinet, and an overall heart-warming approach to translate various emotions into music. Well done, Patrick! I love this score!

Patrick Doyle is a great composer, and producers should give him really more intelligent movies like this to show his ability. I have one wish: Let Patrick Doyle compose the music for one “Star Wars” movie, please!

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2017, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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