As far as movies about enchanting nannies go, Mary Poppins is certainly the classic favorite. But the delightfully quirky and heartwarming Nanny McPhee could be a close second.
Nanny McPhee captures a lot of the same magic as Poppins --but without songs about spoonfuls of sugar and flying kites. McPhee starts with some very naughty children--seven of them in fact, who, led by the oldest boy Simon (Thomas Sangster), have managed to drive away 17 previous nannies You see, the children recently lost their beloved mother, so they take great offense to being looked after by a nanny. Their father, Mr. Brown (Colin Firth), a nice enough fellow, is at wits end, coupled by the fact his rich Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) is pressuring him to marry again--or she'll cut him off. If there was ever a need for Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson), this is it. She arrives, warts and all, and the children soon notice that their vile behavior now leads swiftly and magically to rather startling consequences.
Leave it to Emma Thompson to throw vanity to the wind and give one of her more appealing performances in a long while. Nanny McPhee is a woman of few words, conveying her point by either staring one directly in the eye or planting her magical cane squarely on the ground. And boy, is she ugly--unless, of course, you start obeying her five simple rules. Then her appearance mysteriously changes. What fun for Thompson. The kids are also entirely adorable, even when they are throwing food around or calling each other "bum!" The standout is Sangster (Love Actually) as the ringleader. Lansbury, who makes her first feature film appearance in two decades, is deliciously over the top as the domineering Adelaide, while Firth, as the hapless widower, and Kelly MacDonald (HBO's The Girl in the Café), as the Brown's sweet scullery maid, add that loving touch.
Not only is Thompson brilliant on screen, she has lent her significant talents behind the scenes as well by writing Nanny McPhee. She hasn't written anything since she won her Academy Award for her stellar adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, but it's very clear Thompson still has a keen story sense. Based on the Nurse Matilda books by Christianna Brand, the actress crafts an engaging, witty, and, yes, even a little dark fable, which is only enhanced by solid direction from Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine). This isn't your ordinary Mary Poppins, but more a magical nanny story for the Harry Potter generation. There are times the film lapses into silliness--usually when dealing with tricking the adults--but there are more moments of pure imagination and touching sentiments. Nanny McPhee is just a lot of fun for the whole family.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.