DIR: Susanna White • WRI: Emma Thompson • PRO: Tim Bevan, Lindsay Doran, Eric Fellner • DOP: Mike Eley • ED: Sim Evan-Jones • DES: Simon Elliott • CAST: Emma Thompson, Ralph Fiennes, Maggie Smith, Rhys Ifans, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Emma Thompson once again pens and stars in a candy-coloured film adaptation of the children’s books by Christianna Brand, following a very strict and very ugly nanny who brings order and manners to a household full of naughty children. This outing sees the titular character nursing a farmhouse family whose father is off at war. The mother, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, is obliged the sell the land to her nasty brother (Rhys Ifans), a slimy character who will not rest till he gets his way. Meanwhile the children’s vile London cousins come to stay – two little brats who balk at the state of the earthy farm abode.
Enter Nanny McPhee – an otherworldly being who appears when a family needs her most – squashed-nosed and snaggle-toothed, she calmly teaches the children five important lessons, though when things get out of hand she must employ the same supernatural technique of setting down her walking stick as she did in her previous adventure, and to spectacular effect. Nanny McPhee attempts to set the household to rights using these very methods, while the family struggle on with their visitors and hope against hope that their father will return.
Thanks to Emma Thompson’s involvement, the film boasts an impressive array of British thespians, including Maggie Smith, Ewan McGregor and Ralph Fiennes as a senior WW2 army officer. Though characterisation is hardly profound in a story such as this, each actor has their moment to shine – and Gyllenhaal, as the young mother, sports a flawless British accent and conveys her trademark maternal emotion when needs be. Production values are stellar, with all the period details on display. The film whisks along at a nice pace and never gets bogged down in one place – Thompson’s adaptation is wrought with real warmth and wit, and once again she works wonders on-screen under layers of prosthetics, with every wry glance and raise of the eyebrow worthy of a laugh.
Setting the story of against the backdrop of World War II is very smart move – the ‘big bang’ in the title referring to the imminent threat of bombings during this time period. This gives the film a foundation of realism that the previous movie lacked…however, there’s little room left for war-time misery in the thematic threads of this story – you’re more like to find a group of piglets doing synchronised swimming than any sign of a swastika.
Ultimately, this is a family film, written for children – talking to them, not at them and carrying a very sensitive message at its heart. There are no double-entendres for the adults the snigger at; this is harmless entertainment at its best. It may not be a new classic but it’s nice to see something like this making its way to our screens during the Easter break.
(See biog here)
Rated G (See IFCO website for details)