A review of “Nanny McPhee” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG for magical intensity

Run Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

 

 

Emma Thompson headlines and highlights this enchanting crowd pleaser based on the popular “Nurse Mathilda” books by Christianna Brand.

It’s “Sound of Music” redux at the Brown household deep in the English countryside. Mom has recently passed away leaving the befuddled Mr. Brown (Colin Firth) with seven clever but very naughty children to care for.

Just as the umpteenth consecutive nanny runs screaming from the house the unsettling and startlingly homely Nanny McPhee (Thompson) appears, cool as tepid tea and ready to tame Brown’s exceedingly unruly lot.

Eldest son Simon (Thomas Sangster) leads the charge to get Nanny ousted and it’s a battle of wills throughout. Another sticky wicket: the Browns are being funded by spiteful Great Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) who insists that Mr. Brown remarry or she’ll cut off his allowance.

Chaos ensues from every angle as Nanny works her curious sorcery to bring the Brown clan around and dad desperately casts about for an available mate who will agree to marry before Adelaide’s deadline. 

Thompson’s smart script (think “Sense and Sensibility”) and the uncanny dignity she brings to her Mary Poppins-esque children’s nurse make up for a lot of flaws, most of them involving warmed-over plotlines (“Mrs. Doubtfire”, “Home Alone”), farting babies and glamorous jackasses (you had to be there).

Thompson herself is a marvel, a take-no-prisoners childminder with a subtly appealing approach and no-nonsense warmth. The children more than hold their own against thespian heavyweights Imelda Staunton, Derek Jacobi and Celia Imrie.

Running gag involving Nanny’s uncanny ability to appear without warning (“I did knock”) is highly amusing as are Firth’s frantic but affable fumblings. Quirky, sweet and charming.