Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang – movie review

Emma Thompson’s Nanny McPhee returns for a sequel, this time set in wartime England. Now I have to be honest, when we went to the cinema to see this, I figured it was the kind of movie I could fall asleep in.

Let’s face it, after the first movie, we kind of know how Nanny McPhee works – she arrives at a time when she’s needed but not wanted. When she shows up, she’s a hideous old hag: warts, monobrow, frizzy hair and snaggletooth. However, as the children under her care settle down and learn her lessons, her disfigurements disappear. And at the end, when total harmony has been restored, Nanny McPhee must leave. Because when you want her but do not need her, she has to go.

It’s enough of a difference not to be a complete Mary Poppins rip-off.

This time round the harrassed mother is a Mrs Green, whose husband is fighting in the war. She’s holding down a job in a local shop while raising three boisterous children on the family farm. Her slimy brother-in-law (played by Rhys Ifans) is trying to get her to sell the farm because he secretly has gambling debts and is being threatened by a couple of heavy ladies.

And to make matters worse, two spoilt brats of cousins arrive from the city to stay for a while.

The rest of the movie revolves around Uncle Phil’s attempts to trick Mrs Green into signing the farm over. And of course, Nanny McPhee and the children club together to thwart him at every turn. The culmination is when Phil has almost managed to get the deeds to the farm, but a bomb lands in the middle of the cornfield. The children work together to defuse the bomb, but are thwarted at the last wire, which is sealed with a type of putty. Enter Nanny McPhee’s sidekick: a crow with an addiction to eating putty (yes, we wondered when the significance of the crow would be revealed). They stop the bomb with seconds to spare before the crow gives off a spectacular fireworks display with the explosive putty.

You’ve got to go and see this one. It’s done in that charming style of Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but the movie is slightly cartoonish in the style of the first Nanny McPhee film. Nanny herself is a lot more amiable that I remember from her previous excursion, not quite as sinister. And because we already know the drill with her facial disfigurements, this time we get a wider backstory – we meet a guard in London who she was a nanny to as well.

Perhaps the most heartwarming reference of all is when we discover that the dotty Mrs Doherty is actually the child from the first movie, now in old age. Maggie Smith is magical as the ditzy old lady (“Why can’t I sit in a cow pat?” she says, before lowering herself onto one during a picnic), and when she produces the little silver toy from the first movie, everything clicks into place.

As I said at the top, I didn’t expect to be awake during this at the cinema, but Nanny McPhee held my attention throughout. And one of the most rewarding things about watching kids’ movies in the cinema is watching your children’s reactions – their faces were incredulous, amused and at the climax of the bomb dismantling scene, our son had both hands on his face in utter shock! I totally recommend this one for the kids.

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