Actress Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay—adapted from the book series Nurse Matilda—and plays the title character, an intimidating nanny who tames the seven wild children of Mr. Brown, a widowed undertaker played by Colin Firth.
Emma Thompson may have her name above the title in Nanny McPhee, and she is very good, but the real stars here are the kids. Each of the brood of unruly kids are good performers in an unprecocious way and lend the movie much of its charm.
Then there is the Nanny. Without explanation she arrives—much like Mary Poppins without the spoonful of sugar—in a mysterious cloud, covered in warts and carrying a big stick that seems to contain the answers to the children’s discipline problems. No, she doesn’t beat the kids with it, but stamping it on the floor unleashes magical spells that teach the kids valuable life lessons. Thompson is perfect as the stern mistress, anchoring the film with a still performance that appears to consist entirely of long disapproving stares.
Nanny McPhee is an intelligent, unpretentious modern fairy tale with a plot that would make Roald Dahl proud and a cast that thoroughly enjoys themselves. It should keep the younger kids busy until the next Harry Potter movie hits the theatres.