Film Review: Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang

2010 – 109mn – U

Directed by Susanna White. Starring Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ralph Fiennes, Maggie Smith, Rhys Ifans and Bill Bailey.

Review by Walter Nichols

FIVE years after the original, Emma Thompson’s zany Nanny McPhee is back for a new adventure. Nanny McPhee (Thompson) arrives to help a harried young mother, Mrs. Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) struggling to run the family farm while her husband is away at war. But McPhee quickly realizes that Mrs. Green’s two children are waging a war of their own – against their spoiled city cousins… Like all good enchanted nannies, McPhee takes it upon herself to use her magic to teach her new charges five new lessons.

Big Bang is a whole new escapade for Nanny McPhee, with a whole new family – don’t expect to see Colin Firth, Kelly Macdonald or cute little Thomas Sangster turn up here. The tone, however, is the same – only better. Every moment is funny, colorful, inventive, and happily surreal. There’s something gloriously English, and gloriously childlike, about Thompson’s script and Susanna White’s direction: Nanny McPhee hits that perfect spot in our collective consciousness, that magical universal pond that all great children’s stories tap into. The world it creates is that of an imaginative, insightful child’s perspective of World War II, but with the confidence and nostalgia of someone looking back on that time in British history and longing for its honor and simplicity. The cast is stellar and inventive, proof if still needed that there are more fine actors in Britain than anywhere else in the world, and the one seemingly odd choice, Maggie Gyllenhall, actually acquits herself extremely well, with a sweet energy and a great English accent. The kids are also very funny, and well-written for. One to watch is 12-year-old Asa Butterfield, already seen in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and soon to lead Martin Scorsese’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

The whole thing is clever, silly, and unexpected. The kids’ shenanigans are the kind of infectiously joyous mayhem you wish you’d been involved in as a child. A few scenes near the end maybe try to pack a little too much in, but it’s a wonderful experience, “classic” written all over it. One thing is sure: you’ll never look at piglets the same way again.

???? (4 out of 5 stars)