Nanny McPhee (2005) – movie review

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Movie Review by Vivienne Messenger

Starring: Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Kelly Macdonald, Thomas Sangster

Director: Kirk Jones

What an awesome sight to behold with her huge beak-like nose, grotesque hairy facial moles, one front tooth longer than the other protruding from her mouth and hair swept back into a bun- Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) descends on the Brown household.

Dressed severely in black and holding a crooked cane she questions widower Mr Brown (Colin Firth) about his children’s behaviour that has rapidly got out of control since his wife died a few months earlier. Working as an embalmer at the local funeral parlour Midgewaller & Sons with fellow jovial undertakers Mr Wheen (Derek Jacobi) and Mr Jowls (Patrick Barlow), Mr Brown has exhausted the local agency’s supply of nannies and is at his wits end.

With the words “Your children need me” she takes control, firmly but serenely. Departing for the kitchen where his seven children are holding the cook, Mrs Blatherwick (Imelda Staunton) hostage even though she has it in writing from Mr Brown that the kitchen is off limits to the children, she appears on the scene of dissension.

Banging her magic stick on the kitchen floor when the children ignore her requests to stop she unexplainably speeds up and increases their riotous behaviour until all the younger siblings are begging Simon (Thomas Sangster), the eldest and ringleader, to say stop – please! Now she has their attention she begins to quietly but firmly instil some law and order with the words: “When you need me but do not want me, I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go.”

A battle of wills unfolds in this charming, original film based on the Nurse Matilda books by Christianna Brand as Simon and his siblings defiantly test Nanny McPhee to see if they can hound this latest nanny out of the house faster that the rest with their outlandish pranks – not for the feint hearted! Not only author of the screenplay, Emma Thompson puts in a sterling performance along with her seven charges, who all give convincing performances and seem to genuinely relish the pranks they manage to pull off.

But this isn’t just a movie about a nanny restoring order in an unruly Victorian/Edwardian household, it also embraces the unfolding love story, excuse the pun, between Mr Brown and Evangeline (Kelly Macdonald), his scullery maid who rises to become his hand in marriage in true fairytale and ‘My Fair Lady’ tradition. But their road to happiness has many pitfalls in the form of the overbearing and elderly Aunt Adelaide Stitch (wonderfully played by Angela Lansbury – MURDER SHE WROTE TV series) who is pressurising her nephew Mr Brown into a speedy marriage or he will lose the allowance she pays him, which he needs to make up the shortfall from his funeral job to keep a roof over his children’s heads, to Mrs Quickly (Celia Imrie). Aah Mrs Quickly…. a predatory widow always on the prowl for monetary and social advancement, she becomes a pawn in the Brown’s children pranks who know exactly who they want their father to marry – and it’s definitely not her! It’s Evangeline, their scullery maid (and friend) being educated unsuspectingly by Aunt Adelaide who has extremely poor eyesight and thinks she’s privately educating one of Mr Brown’s children and doing him a favour by taking one of his brood of his hands.

Director Kirk Jones keeps this movie well paced and allows the characters plenty of room to develop even the seven children including baby Agatha! In conjunction with a delightful and skilfully penned screenplay by Emma Thompson, this is a thoroughly entertaining film. All ages, but especially children, will be entranced by the manipulative magic Nanny McPhee conjures up with her magic stick and the hilarity, originality and inventiveness of the pranks that the Brown children implement with precision efficiency.

Closing with the words given in the credits that… “This film is dedicated only to the truly naughty and their children! – I can’t top that!

5 out of 6 stars