After the recently widowed Mr. Brown (Colin Firth) has seen the back of the 17th nanny, all driven away by his six mischievous children, the mysterious Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson), appears and offers to help. She has unsettling facial features and magical powers. As Nanny McPhee takes control, the children begin to notice that their acts of mischief lead swiftly and magically to unexpected consequences. Is she a hypnotist? A magician? A witch? Even Mr. Brown isn't sure, but under Nanny McPhee's influence, his own life is being turned upside down as well.
Review by Louise Keller:
There's no spoon of sugar given by this nanny, but like Mary Poppins, Nanny McPhee knows how to sort out needy children as well as their needy father. And while she may be an unlikely heroine with a bulbous nose, facial moles and wildly protruding tooth, her methods are beyond reproach.
A dancing donkey wearing a purple hat, pastel-dipped baby lambs, worm sandwiches, toads in teapots and hairy tarantulas creeping into bouffant hairdos are some of the delights of this very sweet film, which is filled with mischief and fantasy. It's colourful, bright and funny, with splendid production design, and apart from the central characters, everyone is a larger-than-life caricature.
Emma Thompson, who also stars as the mysterious Nanny, has adapted Christianna Brand's novels to the screen with a charming screenplay beginning with an empty red velvet chair and ending with a spectacular happily-ever-after fairy tale ending. It starts slowly, but soon after Nanny McPhee's ominous silhouette appears at the Brown family's front door, we are intrigued. Just like the way she sneaks up when you aren't expecting her and philosophically sighs, this Nanny sneaks her way into our hearts. The five lessons she teaches, not only modifies the behaviour of the unruly children (who guillotine dolls' heads, toss socks into the mashed potato and even pretend to have eaten the baby), but give them the confidence to make their own decisions, bear the consequences of their actions and use their common sense. As the children learn the lessons, their growing affection makes Nanny McPhee's warts magically disappear and her ugliness blossoms into beauty.
It's a lovely cast headed by Thompson, with Colin Firth perfect as the father who can't communicate with his children and the appealing Kelly MacDonald as Evangeline, the gentle and pretty scullery maid. You may not remember Thomas Sangster's name, but you will remember him as the love-smitten youngster in Love Actually. Here, he and the other six children (cute baby included) are all terrific. Angela Lansbury plays the wicked, rich aunt with the hooked nose with glee, Imelda Staunton's frizzy red haired paranoid cook is a treat, and Celia Imre goes for broke with her over-the-top vulgar available widow, who wears lolly pinks and greens and lives in a chinzy, floral house.
There are many sound morals and messages in Nanny McPhee, but they are never thrust down our throats. We are left to revel in such fantasies as snow storms in August as the story draws to an uplifting, if wistful conclusion.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A dancing donkey, a scary, furry spider, childish pranks, magic spells and characters larger than life are just a few of the ingredients in this fairy tale, set in the horse and carriage days of England. Colin Firth charms his bumbling way through the character of widower father, but the target market for this film is not his legion of female fans, but their kids.
Anyone between 5 and 8 or so will enjoy the thrills and spills of the misbehaving children before they are tamed by Nanny McPhee, at which point their parents/guardians will enjoy watching the lesson being learnt by previously irascible little rascals.
Having done a sterling job with production design and effects, the filmmakers let Nanny McPhee run with our imaginations - the younger the better for this - and give Emma Thompson a fun role to play with as the wart-faced nanny whose looks seem to improve with the success of her mission.
Everyone, the child stars included, deliver performances worthy of something as important as a fairy tale.
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NANNY MCPHEE (PG)
CAST: Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Judi Dench, Angela Lansbury, Kelly MacDonald, Thomas Sangster, Celia Imrie, Derek Jacobi, Patrick Barlow, Imelda Staunton
PRODUCER: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lindsay Doran, Debra Hayward,
DIRECTOR: Kirk Jones
SCRIPT: Emma Thompson (novels by Christianna Brand)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Henry Braham
EDITOR: Justin Krish, Nick Moore
MUSIC: Patrick Doyle
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michael Howells
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 12, 2006