×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Nanny McPhee’

A 'Mary Poppins'-like tale of naughty well-heeled tykes tamed by a magical child-minder.

With:
Nanny McPhee - Emma Thompson Mr. Brown - Colin Firth Evangeline - Kelly Macdonald Mr. Wheen - Derek Jacobi Mr. Jowls - Patrick Barlow Mrs. Quickly - Celia Imrie Mrs. Blatherwick - Imelda Staunton Simon - Thomas Sangster Aunt Adelaide - Angela Lansbury Tora - Eliza Bennett Lily - Jenny Daykin Eric - Raphael Coleman Sebastian - Samuel Honywood Christianna - Holly Gibbs Baby Agatha - Hebe Barnes, Zinnia Barnes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0396752/

Working Title’s latest attempt to crack the lucrative family market after the sputtering “Thunderbirds,” “Nanny McPhee” finds the Brit shingle returning to a cozy comfort zone with a “Mary Poppins”-like tale of naughty well-heeled tykes tamed by a magical child-minder. Even with its clipped English accents, “Nanny” should prove a lucrative (especially on ancillary) and exportable property with its name cast led by Emma Thompson and Colin Firth, a spoonful of sugary morality and a kidcentric mindset suitable for female tots.

Pic opened wide in Blighty Oct. 21 with a $4.6 million opening weekend, good for second place between “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” and “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride.” Universal has pegged U.S. bow for Jan. 27.

Film, based loosly on Christianna Brand’s “Nurse Matilda” children’s books of the 1960s, is set in a fantasy version of the late Victorian period. However, script by Thompson often feels like a G-rated version of one of Working Title’s contempo, adult-oriented successes, with its single-parent set up (“About a Boy”) and subplot about a cross-tracks romance (“Love Actually,” “Bridget Jones’s Diary”) between lead grown-up Mr. Brown (WT regular Firth) and scullery maid Evangeline (Kelly Macdonald). Even the slapstick recalls WT hits like “Johnny English” and “Bean.”

Funeral director Mr. Brown (Firth) — recently bereaved, good-hearted but hopeless inept at parenting — has been left with seven children, from pubescent Simon (Thomas Sangster, “Love Actually”) down to infant Agatha (twins Hebe and Zinnia Barnes). Since mom died, the Brown brood has gone through 17 nannies due to unruly behavior and such antics as pretending to have eaten the baby.

What the pint-sized hooligans don’t know is that, if dad doesn’t marry within a month, his late wife’s Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury, channeling Joyce Grenfell but with a beaky nose) will cut off a much-needed allowance, forcing the family to be split up. Propriety keeps Brown from proposing to the object of his affection, comely domestic Evangeline (Macdonald), who clearly (if mutely) returns his regard.

The only plausible candidate Brown can think of is mite-too-merry widow Mrs. Quickly (Celia Imrie, in a ripe turn, whose corseted embonpoint amply fills the widescreen frame). In the meantime, a new nanny must be found.

One evening, the frightening physiognomy of Nanny McPhee (Thompson, festooned with warts and a monobrow, plus padding under her black dress) turns up on the Browns’ doorstep. A rap of her magic walking stick on the floor forces the rioting rugrats in the kitchen to free the cook, Mrs. Blatherwick (Imelda Staunton), who they’ve trussed to the table.

Thus endeth Nanny McPhee’s first lesson: Go to bed when you’re told. In due course, the Brown family, and not just the children, learns four further lessons — from the prosaic “dress when you are told” to the more homiletic “listen” — plus more, in true movie fashion, about themselves. After each lesson, Nanny McPhee loses a wart or blemish as her beauty blossoms out of the children’s growing love for her.

Fable’s didacticism is right up there on the surface, and some auds may cringe at the way pic needles middle-class anxieties about parenting skills — a fashionable topic on TV these days. But under the surface, the movie has a streak of Roald Dahl-style darkness that dilutes the sugar.

Helming by Kirk Jones is as brisk and efficient as in his previous comedy, “Waking Ned Devine,” and he shows the same skill at keeping perfs on a fine cusp between British pantomime and standard cinematic clowning. Kiddie cast’s cut-glass drama-school diction fits the characters’ well-to-do milieu, although non-British viewers may find it more charming than indigenous auds.

Supporting players like Staunton, Imrie, and Derek Jacobi (“In the Night Garden … ”) and Patrick Barlow (as Brown’s oleaginous assistants) appear to be having a ball.

Pic utilizes a lurid palette of colors — acid greens, flaming fuchsias and eye-popping purples — to create a look of comfy suburbia on acid. Almost headache-inducing effect is achieved through a diabolical pact between Michael Howells’ cluttered production design, Nic Ede’s gloriously over-the-top costumes and special grading of Henry Braham’s lensing. Use of special and visual f/x is restrained compared with most family films nowadays and deployed mostly to make Nanny McPhee’s warts disappear and, in one of the most winning sequences, make a donkey dressed as a lady dance.

Film Review: 'Nanny McPhee'

Reviewed at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue at the Trocadero, London, Oct. 23, 2005. Running time: 98 MIN.

Production: (U.K.-U.S.) A UIP (in U.K.)/Universal (in U.S.) release of a Universal Pictures, StudioCanal presentation, in association with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, of a Working Title production, in association with Three Strange Angels, Nanny McPhee Prods. Produced by Lindsay Doran, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner. Executive producers, Debra Hayward, Liza Chasin. Co-producer, Glynis Murray.

Crew: Directed by Kirk Jones. Screenplay, Emma Thompson, based on the books by Christianna Brand. Camera (color, widescreen), Henry Braham; editors, Justin Krish, Nick Moore; music, Patrick Doyle; production designer, Michael Howells; supervising art director, Lynne Huitson; art director, Matt Robinson; set decorator, Philippa Hart; costume designer, Nic Ede; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS Digital), Simon Hayes; special effects supervisor, Mark Holt; assistant director, Gareth Tandy; casting, Michelle Guish.

With: Nanny McPhee - Emma Thompson Mr. Brown - Colin Firth Evangeline - Kelly Macdonald Mr. Wheen - Derek Jacobi Mr. Jowls - Patrick Barlow Mrs. Quickly - Celia Imrie Mrs. Blatherwick - Imelda Staunton Simon - Thomas Sangster Aunt Adelaide - Angela Lansbury Tora - Eliza Bennett Lily - Jenny Daykin Eric - Raphael Coleman Sebastian - Samuel Honywood Christianna - Holly Gibbs Baby Agatha - Hebe Barnes, Zinnia Barnes

More Film

  • Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in

    Film Review: 'Vice'

    From Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump, the leaders of right-wing Republican politics have tended to be fire-breathers (or, in the case of Reagan, a saber rattler who could make snake oil taste like honey). But Dick Cheney broke that mold. Speaking in soft terse corporate tones, with the precision squint of someone [...]

  • Armie Hammer and Felicity Jones'On the

    Why Armie Hammer Cooked for the Cast of 'On the Basis of Sex'

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to her hometown on Sunday for the New York premiere of “On the Basis of Sex,” a biopic starring Felicity Jones tells the Supreme Court justice’s origin story. The 85-year-old Brooklynite received a standing ovation when she entered the Walter Reade Theater — a testament to the Notorious RBG’s rock-star status. Ginsburg [...]

  • Paul McCartney, Emma Stone Take Aim

    Paul McCartney, Emma Stone Take Aim at Bullying With 'Who Cares' Short

    Paul McCartney and Emma Stone get surreal for a good cause in the short film inspired by McCartney’s new anti-bullying song “Who Cares,” which held its premiere Sunday night at Beverly Hills’ Fine Arts Theater. In the short directed by Brantley Guitierrez (a longtime McCartney tour photographer) and choreographer Ryan Heffington, the music legend and [...]

  • Black Panther Production Design

    Netflix Isn't Killing Movie Theaters, Study Shows

    Netflix isn’t killing movie theaters. At least, that’s the take-away from a new study conducted by EY’s Quantitative Economics and Statistics group, which finds that people who go to movies in theaters more frequently also consume more streaming content. That flies in the face of the “conventional wisdom” of box office sages, who grimly ascribe [...]

  • 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Weaves Inclusive

    The Secret Power of 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Is Inclusion

    In a year that gave us films like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” this weekend’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” delivers one more home run for underrepresented groups in media in 2018. An animated film that takes advantage of Sony’s piece of the Marvel pie, “Spider-Verse” not only puts a mixed-race, middle-class teenager in the [...]

  • Jeff BridgesJeff Bridges, who stars in

    Jeff Bridges to Receive Cecil B. DeMille Award at 2019 Golden Globes

    The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has announced that Jeff Bridges will receive the Cecil B. DeMille award at the 76th Golden Globes on Jan. 6, 2019. Bridges has starred in films like “The Big Lebowski,” “Crazy Heart,” “True Grit,” and “The Fabulous Baker Boys.” “The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is delighted to bestow the 2019 [...]

  • Charlotte Rampling Euphoria

    Berlin Film Festival: Charlotte Rampling to Receive Honorary Golden Bear

    Oscar-nominated actress Charlotte Rampling, whose career has spanned more than 100 film and television roles, will be honored with a special Golden Bear at the upcoming Berlin Film Festival. The fest will also pay homage to Rampling by screening a selection of her work, including Sidney Lumet’s “The Verdict” (1982), Francois Ozon’s “Swimming Pool” (2003) [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content