Director/Writer: Paul James Driscoll | Producer(s): Alyazia Bint Nahyan, Mazen Alkhayrat | Cast/’contributors’: Julie C. Mcilvenny, the Mohammed Al Hammadi family
Nanny Culture, created and directed by James Driscoll, doesn’t quite hit the levels of accolade as so many great docs out there at the moment. At best it’s an ok semi-insightful, but not really, observation as one woman takes a job as a Nanny in the UAE. At the very least it plays more like a mockumentary and this critic has to admit to have done a few google searches just to be sure it wasn’t!
When it begins we’re introduced to a company with the placeholder* name Nanny’s Inc, somewhere in London. The boss informs our off-camera director that British Nannie’s are in much demand internationally – especially in the UAE. A few staged scenes later, “do you want me to call them now?!” whines an agent when asked by the film crew to ask a client (over the phone) if they can film and follow their new nanny to UAE – the answer is, understandably, no. It’s so bizarre a set up that it legitimately feels staged. We meet British nanny Julie who is desperate to book a job in the middle-east because her that’s where her husband and children are at the moment. She can go join them (it’s never really clear why it’s such an issue for her to just be with her family, why did she have to be in the UK in order to get work?).
Julie also has a very strong South African accent, which should be moot really had it not been for the fact that the doc sells the idea of ‘British Nannies’ as basically a Mary Poppins in 2016; somethings missing without that sensible British charm the rest of the world seems to associate with nannies here, which is largely just someone with a British accent. Julie’s glimpses between director and the camera immediately call to mind the style employed by characters in a Ricky Gervais show; she decides to put her hat in the ring, or whatever Nannies wear these days, and lo and behold the family she’s journeying too has said yes.
(*Nope, genuinely a real agency)
There’s an embarrassing moment upon arrival at the UAE airport, between Julie and a driver. She immediately introduces herself, believing him to be the father of the children she’ll be looking after “i thought he’d pick me up” – I paraphrase. No one is that naive, Julie – you only had to have picked up a local paper in the last five years to know anyone from the UAE, who can afford a British Nanny probably has a driver to pick up guests.
Actual Daddy of the family, Mohammed, is looking for someone to bring his kids together and give them a sense of order, Mum (Badrya) just wants a break from her sprog. The family look like a family, the children are all definitely related and admittedly they’re pretty decent kids; they’re parents seem lovely. It’s the other staff that are the problem. Or so a perpetually smug faced Julie tells us. These women, who have been in the job for a lot longer than the crew has been in the country, suddenly have the condescending certified Nanny Julie to answer to. It’s kind of embarrassing to see the confrontations she has with them go down (and how they’re woefully staged) but also fascinating to watch her work, even if she is really an actress.
Story wise I’m not sure the directors heart is in it or Julie’s really. Yes she manages to get the six children to eat together at dinner time, she even gets them to play board games and read books! (hang on, maybe I was hasty in my British charm statement). There’s a random, unnecessary incident involving a necklace mix-up that escalates quickly, in the last act of the film and still to this day I can’t figure out why. There are glimmers of hope which, I’m sad to say, are doused to submission. The issue of culture assimilation is broached after a naive Julie goes to shake the hand of one of Mohammed’s guests: Muslim men and women are forbidden to touch. It’s a scandal for all of a minute before we move on, quickly.
There’s also the spotlight held over the would-be-interesting-story of eldest son, Abdullah. He’s not himself Mohammed laments – all he wants to do is play computer games indoors, he doesn’t engage much with his siblings or anyone. Julie understands, she promises to get to the bottom of it, except she doesn’t. Missing out a great opportunity for the filmmaker to offer up another more dynamic and insightful perspective into Nanny culture from the voice of a boy on the verge of puberty in a conservative environment.
We hear Julie’s voice enough though, she’s got plenty to say and like this film on the whole – it’s not particularly groundbreaking or interesting.
Nanny Culture hit selected cinemas on November 4th.