Book Review: Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine

Hi everyone! I hope you’re all well. It’s Friday again, which means another review, and today, I’m sharing my thoughts on Madame Doubtfire (or Alias Madame Doubtfire in the US) by Anne Fine.

Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine was first published in 1987 by Hamish Hamilton and (my copy) is 175 pages long.


Daniel Hillard is a divorced, down-on-his-luck actor who wants to spend more time with his three children, Lydia, Christopher and Natalie. The only problem is that their mother thinks he’s too irresponsible. When she advertises for a housekeeper to help look after the house and the children, Daniel, under the guise of Madame Doubtfire, applies for the position and inevitably gets the job. The children immediately see through his disguise, and drama and hijinx ensue as they and Daniel try to keep their mother from discovering Madame Doubtfire’s true identity.


Daniel /Madam Doubtfire
Daniel and Miranda have separated and divorced, with things between them contentious. Throughout the book, we see how they get on one another’s nerves as they bicker and bad-mouth one another in front of the children. Daniel wants to be able to spend more time with his children, but Miranda thinks he is irresponsible and sees them enough. He’s a good father; you can tell by how the children are around him – they genuinely want to spend time with him.

Miranda needs some help around the house and to look after the kids while she’s working, prompting her to place an ad. When Madame Doubtfire starts working for her, they immediately get on like a house on fire.

She seems to be a very highly-strung character in the book version, making her hard to like. She seems intent on limiting the time the children spend with daniel for no other reason than to be vindictive. Even when daniel offers to watch the kids instead of paying for extra help, she is reluctant.

Lydia is the eldest of the Hillard kids and, like the others, wants to spend more time with their father. When Daniel disguises himself as Madame Doubtfire to trick his ex-wife into hiring him as a housekeeper, Lydia recognises him immediately, though, along with her siblings, she goes along with the plan, nervous about what Miranda will say when she inevitably finds out.

Christopher is fed up with his parents bickering, and like his siblings, he wants to spend time with his father without his mother dropping them off late or picking them up early. Unlike his siblings, however, he doesn’t immediately recognise his father as Madame Doubtfire when he returns home to find her sitting and chatting with his mother. It takes Lydia to tell him later on before he knows.

In the book version of the story, Natalie realises that Madame Doubtfire is her father right away. There’s a sweet sequence near the start when Madame Doubtfire is helping Natalie get ready for bed. She tucks her in and reads her a story, at the end of which we learn she has known it was her father the whole time, but then she sort of forgets, which is a little confusing, because she starts to engage with Madame Doubtfire as a separate person, often speaking with her about her father. It is explained through the story that it helps Natalie to cope with the deception by compartmentalising the two personalities of Daniel and Madame Doubtfire. It’s not a huge distraction, and after it was mentioned once, I was able to get swept up in the story.

Each of the Hillard children is well-drawn enough to be a believable character, behaving like typical siblings. They seem well used to the ups and downs (mostly downs) of their parents’ relationship, and they are very supportive of one another.

Writing Style

The writing here gives an honest view of family life – at least for my family. Although my parents never divorced, they undoubtedly came very close a few times, and my siblings and I often felt like we needed to take sides. Like the movie, the book is written in a way that is entertaining for children on one level while still being wholly entertaining to adults on another.

One thing kept niggling at me throughout the book, and I couldn’t shake it: how is Miranda unable to tell that Madame Doubtfire is her ex-husband. After all, all he’d done was put on a bit of makeup and a turban. Even their youngest child knew. I did my best to ignore it and to remember that it is ostensibly a book for children. Perhaps children are better at suspending their disbelief. 

The story seems nicely paced until the ending, which seems to happen in a blur after Miranda discovers Madame Doubtfire’s secret. A lot of drama happens in that particular scene, and then in the next two, the novel is finished. I felt cheated by that because it didn’t feel realistic; everything was wound up too nicely and neatly for what just happened. Some of the emotional fallout had been skipped. Again, it is a children’s book, but the ending seemed to deflate.

Final Thoughts

As I’ve talked about before, I’m really into the novelisations of movies. I think often, they offer a deeper level of story and characterisation. However, in this case, the movie came after the book, and until recently, I was unaware that Mrs Doubtfire is based on a novel.

I must say, I am often of the opinion that books are usually better than movie adaptations, but in this case, I believe the reverse is true. I’m not sure as to why; it could be that Robin Williams in the role of Madame (Mrs) Doubtfire was a magical thing to see, owning the character in his own inimitable way, or it could have been that the movie version of the story is quite a bit lighter in tone than the book. I’m not sure. Anyway, one thing’s for sure, the movie has a much more satisfying ending.

What I will say, though, is that with the book taking place in England with an English family and English cultural references, and the movie being quite a bit more Americanised, the differences between the two are almost enough to make them feel as if they are entirely different stories.

Although I liked the book overall, it fell flat in some places. I wonder if I’d have enjoyed it more if I’d never seen Mrs Doubtfre.

I’m giving Madame Doubtfire a 4/10.

Have you read Madame Doubtfire? What are your thoughts? Do you prefer the movie or the book? Let me know!

As always, thank you for reading my review. I appreciate it!

Until next time,


© 2023 GLT

Categories: Book Reviews, Reading

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