04 June 2015

Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang (starring Emma Thompson)


It’s some years since I watched ‘Nanny McPhee’, starring Emma Thompson as the nanny who appears when she’s not wanted, and leaves when she’s not needed. We thought it amusing, and it’s been seen several times by visiting children.

So when we saw the sequel on offer, inexpensively, it seemed like a good idea to buy it although it’s taken a while to decide to see it. We were prepared for disappointment - sequels are sometimes poor imitiations of the original - but were pleasantly surprised.

Having said that, the overall plot isn’t too different from the first. It’s set in the 1940s and features a family with three wild children whose father is away in the war. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the part of Isabel, the stressed mother who is trying to keep the family farm together. The family are expecting two cousins to come and stay, as evacuees from London. They turn out to be spoiled and snooty, and sparks fly… until Nanny McPhee arrives and treats the children to her rather coercive style of ‘teaching’.

The whole thing is caricatured and rather silly in places, with slapstick humour and a predictable (if satisfactory) ending. Isabel’s brother-in-law Phil (Rhys Ifans) makes an over-the-top villain who wants to force her into selling the farm so he can repay his debts. And there’s a delightful cameo role by Maggie Smith as Mrs Docherty, the elderly and scatty Mrs Docherty.

The star, of course, is listed as Emma Thompson, but her role is little different from that in the first DVD. We thought that the children were excellent, with good rapport and almost believable relationships that vary from antagonistic to caring. There are some quite poignant moments too, and the importance of family life and growing friendships was what pulled this movie above the average.

There are nods to some other films, not just the obvious Mary Poppins; there’s a flying scene depicted on the front of some editions of the DVD that could have been out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Mr Docherty, the air raid warden, had a marked similarity to Mr Hodges in Dad’s Army. These (and more) are not particularly forced, and probably add to the appeal for adults although I doubt if most children would notice them.

The action was well-paced, the dialogue good, and some quite tense scenes (at least from an adult perspective) played out nicely. The CGI isn't particularly impressive, but still amusing in places.

The UK rating is U, presumably because there’s nothing specific that would trigger a higher rating, but I’d see this more as a PG, as it's rated in the US: there are a few scenes that could scare a sensitive child.

Overall, though, we thought this a pretty good sequel. Recommended.

Note that 'Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang' may be marketed as 'Nanny McPhee Returns' in the US.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

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