Movie Review: Nanny Mcphee gets by on British charm

By Hoang-Mai Hong

I’ve heard angels, and they sound like British children. Sweet, motherless British children with jam on their faces who dislodge their little sister’s dollies’ heads with their homemade guillotines. This is what you’ll witness when Nanny McPhee opens and you bloody well fall in love with it.

The movie stars Emma Thompson–who also wrote the screen play–in the titular role of the snaggle toothed, warted witch/fairy godmother who is the 18th nanny of the seven Brown children. The children are freakishly cute and ever so precocious, but not annoyingly so, as their American counterparts would be. British kids somehow play out as mini-adults, as opposed to being, well, smart alecky kids. Anywho, the kids are motherless and left to run amok in their eccentric country manor, while their bumbling widower father (played by the jowl-ly, but still charming Colin Firth) is at his wits end trying to make ends meet.

A post-modern tale to the core, Nanny McPhee is a jolly mix of The Sound of Music (the seven out of control motherless children in need of a nanny and a good lesson in manners and life part), My Fair Lady, Cinderella, a Roald Dahl novel (charming creepiness and slightly dark humour), and Mary Poppins (the magic and kites part). Despite the liberal borrowing, the movie has an old school, organic feel to it, as if it wasn’t a product of movie executives around a table hashing on what they think kids think are ‘cool’ today. What you get with Nanny McPhee instead is a lovingly crafted kids’ film slightly older people will probably enjoy even more, because the script, like these Brit kids, is clever, witty and charming.

The plot is predictable enough but the little touches lend the movie its charm. Think creaky British country houses where only in fairy tales can its residents be ‘poor’; a funeral parlour where the father works with two old undertakers who offer a sort of running commentary, similar to the two old men in the balcony from the Muppets; plans to scare off incompetent nannies that include ‘eating’ babies and a scene kids will not get because of the occasional fellatio joke and you’re in Nanny McPhee‘s ballpark.

Most of all, the movie has a huge heart and you can’t help but tear up at the more touching moments of the movie, mostly involving Firth, the widower who mourns his wife but is forced to look for a new wife to fulfill the demands of his rich Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) to get the monthly sum his excessively large family needs to get by. You can barely stop the “Aww…” from escaping from your lips when Brown admits to his children his reasons for seeking a new wife so soon, and says, “There are so many of you, but you’re all so delicious.” Admittedly, it sounds creepy on paper, but it’s a fitting description of the seven Brown children, all jammy faced and chock full of witticisms.

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