Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1970)
Cast: Ursula Howells, Patricia Haywood, Howard Trevor, Vanessa Howard, Michael Bryant
Director: Freddie Francis
Nutshell: deliciously twisted horror comedy simmering with sexual repression featuring the perfect happy family. Bewildering, startling, unique and most enjoyable indeed.
“Girly is a ripe and rancid film, dripping with a playful and peculiarly British malevolence” – Ten Years of Terror
“Stupid” – Maltin
“Some suspense ‘***’ ” – Blockbuster Guide
“Bomb” – Video Movies Guide
“revolting black comedy for masochists, representing British cinema at its lowest ebb” – Halliwell Guide
Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly are the perfect happy family, living a blissful life in the English countryside where they run a large estate with lodgers who they refer to as “new friends” with whom they spend a jolly good time having tea parties, playing games, watching snuff movies and much more. Mumsy, an ageing beauty of yonder is the matriarch of the household, calling the shots and showering her adoration upon her over grown children Sonny and Girly.
When their new friends become, a little boring or are finding the house rules set by Mumsy to be a little stifling they are “sent to meet the angels” while those who are more suitable are encouraged to partake fully in the fun and games.
Mumsy is the top dog of the household and every once in a while, has to remind Nanny that “after all, Nanny is just the Nanny and Mumsy is Mumsy” and that there is a clear distinction in the roles of the two. Nanny is there to look after the children’s needs and help with the upkeep of the house and as a companion to Mumsy. Together, as a team they “look after” their new friends but the rules of a happy home must be followed at all times and those who “play the game” absolutely must abide by them.
For this demented family, the game has seemingly become the norm and they live in a world of make belief reality where they live their lives out like some warped children’s TV show from the late 60s and early 70s where the presenters were often sickeningly sweet, kind and bubbling over with excitement and there was this specific and very irritating style of appearing in children’s TV programs epitomised by characters such as the legendary Bungle from Rainbow, a particularly awful relic of the 70s. Blue Peter, Cheggers Plays Pop etc. all had this super earnest manner which is quite beautifully parodied by “Mumsy”. How many of those wonderful, chirpy, wide eyed and earnest TV hosts have seen been found to be as morally fragile and fallible as the worst of us ordinary people.
On a typical morning Mumsy and Nanny are busy readying up Room no.5 in cast the children bring home a “new friend” who will then require lodging. There is hustle, bustle and anticipation of the return of the children who have “gone out to play” but because they are such darlings they normally make friends very easily and often bring them home for tea with Mumsy and Nanny who reward them with lovely cakes and buns, crackers and games and even a private movie show. Sonny and Girly looking suitably awkward in their school uniforms considering their advanced ages are often cavorting around town playing their retarded games when they often find the homeless and strays, bums and winos whom they lure as their potential “new friends” bringing them home to Mumsy and Nanny to play games with.
The film is all very perverse and deliciously twisted and very, very British. It’s a quite delightfully warped fairy tale set in the idyllic English countryside where the wonderful Gingerbread Man world of Mumsy, Nanny and co is about to come tumbling down and fatal cracks start to arise in the “Perfect Happy Family” when lust raises its ugly head and the consequences spell disaster.
This is a unique film that had been the dream project of Freddie Francis, a man of considerable stature on the British horror scene during the Hammer era in particular. This was the film he had been hankering to make allowing him complete artistic freedom and it is a perfect example of the late 60s and early 70s that this kind of oddity be made into a commercial film.
There are shades of other films that it seems to share some of the same ambience or connection with such as The Beguiled where Clint Eastwood finds himself drowning in a world of murderous southern hospitality and charm at an All Girls Boarding house during the Civil War. The Beguiled shares some of the same sexual repression and envious rage that can be sensed in Mumsy.
Another early 70s cult classic that followed Mumsy was The Baby which also features a twisted surreal family existing in a fantasy world of their own concocting that is also reminiscent of Mumsy and even Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange shares the same subversive air that Mumsy breathes.
It is perhaps not the easiest film to describe because of its strangeness and the fact that there are few and far between like it. It may well work on different levels or have a different appeal and elicit wildly different reactions depending on the viewer’s expectations. It works as a parody, it works as a twisted and macabre fairy tale, it works as a film about sexual repression, jealousies and lust and it also works as a ridiculous little farce that mocks the perfect manners and the “appearances” that the British Public School system nurtures and the cracks that are hidden below the surface.
The film arrived in cinemas in Britain when there was an ongoing moral backlash against corruptive films and in this jittery environment “Girly” found itself at the forefront of a considerable hate-storm and large percentage of exhibitors shied away from screening it. Vanessa Howard who played Girly was dispirited enough to call it a day on a fledgling career despite her considerable promise and walked away from movies after the disaster. Months later, however, with a little bit of a title change, Girly went on to perform admirably in the US with an extended run as a double bill.
History may have been unkind to this film and it may have fallen right through the cracks never to resurface again but for any film historian or movie enthusiast with an interest in the fascinatingly diverse cinema that was thriving in the 60s and 70s, as well as a film that is quintessentially British in flavour, Mumsy or rather “Girly” as the film was known in the USA would be of particular interest. Moreover, it is a fascinating little film, never dull and delightfully dark and whimsical. Mumsy most definitely is a bit of a hidden gem and needs digging out.