Pity poor Mr. Brown (Colin Firth). Not only is he a mortician in a rural Victorian hamlet, but he is also recently widowed and left to balance his day-to-day duties between the shop and home, where his seven offspring have grown into perfect hellions without the guiding grace of a mother. They have gone through 16 nannies and we witness the 17th as she runs shrieking from the house, fooled by the sinister moppets into thinking that they have roasted baby brother and sat down for a nosh. Add to Mr. Brown’s building distraction the fact that his domineering aunt has given him a deadline to remarry, or she’ll cut off his allowance.
Fortuitously, the eponymous nanny is about to descend on the Brown household like a Mary Hellzapoppin. Intimidatingly ugly and carrying with her a cane of uncanny powers, Nanny McPhee (a virtually unrecognizable Emma Thompson buried under a ton of prosthetic makeup) settles into the household to teach the children Five Simple Rules of Conduct, and to compel them to utilize their new disciplines to help set their father straight.
Adapted by Thompson from Christianna Brand’s “Nurse Matilda” series of books, Nanny McPhee is a children’s flick that should also play well with their attendants. It’s a whimsical fantasy that is aided by a charming cast (save for the characters played as broadly repulsive). No gray areas here. Director Kirk (Waking Ned Devine) Jones maintains what would seem to be an uneasy balance between twee and darker content with almost cartoonish visuals, and sets colored in primaries.