Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang full movie review - So-so, love the actors but hate the script & direction
The immensely talented Emma Thompson returns to play and write the story of the ultimately wonderful yet outwardly repulsive nanny of the film's title, who assists another desperate single parent by taming their mischievous bunch of spirited youngsters.
The lovely Mrs Green (a perfectly charming Maggie Gyllenhaal) becomes burdened with looking after the family estate, a farm in the English countryside, and her sister's children (Eros Vlahos and Rosie Taylor-Ritson) as well as her own (Asa Butterfield, Oscar Steer and Lil Woods) when her husband (a wordless yet productive Ewan McGregor) goes to war.
The children take advantage of her current frenzied state by squabbling, playing dangerously, making a mess of the house and just generally misbehaving. There is also her scheming brother-in-law Phil (Rhys Ifans at his erratic, despicable, scraggly best) seizing opportunities to prise the ownership of the farm out of her hands, and into those of two ghastly female brutes (a spine-tingling pair of Katy Brand and Sinead Matthews actually evoke sympathy for the villainous Phil) who are relentlessly terrorising him.
To add to her stress, her elderly employer Mrs Docherty (a delightfully senile Maggie Smith) cannot be left alone in her own shop, for fear of disaster.
These are all perfect conditions for the snag-toothed hag with that distinctive silhouette to walk into, and she does just as things are at their most chaotic.
There is no doubt that the cast are superb, and the undisputed highlight of the whole picture. Thompson's reprisal of the role is a joy to behold, with all of the wisdom and subtlety that we saw before, but this time showing more of a range as she experiments with comic moments and more human emotions. Here we also begin to see more of the extent of her mysteriousness. The children also have wonderful chemistry, and emit infinite sparkling charm and innocence with every frame.
Though if only Thompson's acting was again as sharp as her writing, or if only director Kirk Jones had also returned to the project to guide her. The new setting is quite unsuitable, and derails the film in many ways. Gone is the cosy small English village of the original. Gone also is the simplicity, the warmth, the storytelling magic that seeps through from Christianna Brand's original storybooks. These are all sorely missed, as well as those wonderful original characters ? Mr Brown, Aunt Adelaide, Evangeline, Mrs Blatherwig, Simon... ? and the outstanding actors who played them with such liveliness ? Colin Firth, Angela Lansbury, Kell Macdonald, Imelda Staunton, Thomas Sangster... ? who inarguably surpass the new faces, however delightful they may be. It might have been thought that bringing them all back would have been tacky, but that would merely have been more faithful to the books, in which Nurse Matilda makes recurring visits to the Brown household after the children have gone back to their old ways. There is however a single scene containing this precious nuance and poignancy, with Ralph Fiennes excelling as a distant father hardened by the war.
Another of the original 2005 film's many virtues was its wealth of sub-plots and dimensions. Clearly this multi-layered quality has been attempted to replicate, but here the layers that have been added on top of the children's lessons are incredibly hackneyed and childish. It is of course a children's film, but Nanny McPhee had an appeal to adults as well as children, while Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang is more juvenile than it needs to be. Phil's efforts to obtain the farm for his tormentors is a typical side-narrative seen countless times earlier, as is that of the long-last father gone to war. Indeed the incorporation of World War II shows enormous misjudgement, with the heavily restricting boundaries of a film for small children preventing the huge event from being done justice.
The nauseatingly corny and clichéd excuse for a climax is the icing on the cake of Susanna White's horribly naive direction, which unfortunately ? together with Thompson's rather sloppy script ? represses her and the rest of the remarkably adept cast, tragically capping their potential.
Still, it makes for some amiably enjoyable kids fodder, and thankfully it did not keep Thompson from finishing her role in the Harry Potter series.