The Nanny

The Nanny


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Returning home from a private school after a two-year break, ten-year-old Joey, on the surface a charming and high-spirited boy, takes an immediate and pointed dislike to the nanny who has been with his family for more than a generation. Is it just part of the growing-up process that so many families find frustrating? Is it a misplaced reaction to his mother's mental instability? Or is it something to do with his sister's mysterious accident, often hinted at but rarely discussed? Is it possible that this apparently doting, patient woman really is out to get him?

Thrillers centered on children have a powerful edge. There is no time in our lives when we are more vulnerable, especially if no one is inclined to listen to our concerns. The flip-side is that it's hard to find children who can act well enough and convey strong enough characters to make us identify with them rather than developing a more distant kind of concern. Here William Bax delivers a brave, refreshingly unmannered performance as the young hero, the perfect foil for Bette Davis' steely old lady. Rather than resorting to sentimental clichés about his situation, writer Sangster cleverly transfers these to his mother, a fragile woman whose dependency on her nanny even when she's in her thirties forms part of the film's secondary theme. With children taking on adult responsibilities and adults behaving like children, this is a household that reeks of disorder. It's a nanny's job to keep order, or to restore it - how far will this one go to do so?

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Bette Davis is always worth watching, and here she echoes the sinister sister in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? This is Hammer's last black and white film, a fine example of the kind of tightly woven dramas they were so good at but which have been generally forgotten in favour of their more overt horror fare. Hammer were always interesting in their willingness to go into female social spaces and explore the distortions of character formed where individuals have limited social options. There are dark secrets in this nanny's past. It's never entirely clear where our sympathies ought to lie. Davis' façade cracks like fine china. Perhaps, despite her superb organisational skills, this woman has always been as helpless as her charges; yet in evincing this, she loses nothing of her potential monstrousness, and the sense of threat is very real throughout.

This is an old-fashioned film about an increasingly rare set of circumstances, yet its characters remain fresh and intriguing. What begins as a simple mystery quickly takes on more profound psychological dimensions, and its delicately ambiguous ending is perfectly judged.

Reviewed on: 07 Mar 2010
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Returning to his parental home after a two year break, a ten year old boy refuses to trust his apparently loving nanny.
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Director: Seth Holt

Writer: Jimmy Sangster, based on the book by Marryam Modell.

Starring: Bette Davis, William Dix, Wendy Craig, Jill Bennett, James Villiers, Pamela Franklin

Year: 1965

Runtime: 91 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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