Sunday, 27 February 2011

Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang (2010)

In 2005 Emma Thompson wrote and starred in a film called "Nanny McPhee" which proved popular amongst the children at which it was aimed and which did respectable business worldwide. It was a period piece in which she played a hideously ugly and very strict governess, all warts and snaggle-toothed, who magically comes to the aid of widower Colin Firth and sorts out his unruly brood of kids, as well as the rest of his life. With each improvement, bits of her ugliness melted away; when she was back to a normal appearance, it meant that her job was done and it was time to move on. It was reasonably entertaining, even for the adult viewer, but a pale "Mary Poppins" clone and hardly one of the great kiddie flicks of all time.

I can only guess that the original movie's success inspired the talented Thompson to pen the above sequel, but I find it an ill-advised move on her part. Nanny ("little c, big P") is back, but the setting has jumped forward to World War II, to emphasize that the stern governess is an immortal, power-laden time traveller. Dad is away at war and Mum is struggling to raise her three kids, save the farm from failing, and taking on two spoiled brats from London -- relatives being sent to the country by their unfeeling parents to avoid bombing raids. To give you an idea of how obnoxious the two newcomers are meant to be, the little girl, whose expensive clothes have been dropped into the poo palace that is the farm's courtyard, appropriates the mother's treasured wedding dress as the only bit of clothing in the house worth wearing and promptly ruins it. Once again Nanny miraculously appears to save the day.

I imagine that Thompson (one of the producers as well) must have called in a lot of favours to get her cast and she has certainly done them no favour in turn; they have little for which to thank her. For some reason Maggie Gyllenhaal is playing the frazzled mother (although to be fair her English accent is reasonable). Maggie Smith plays a scatterbrained oldie who proves to be a link to the first film, who pours treacle into the drawers of the shop that Gyllenhaal runs in the village and whose idea of comfort at a picnic is to sit on a cow pat. Rhys Ifans is the brother-in-law who keeps at Gyllenhaal to sign away her interest in the farm and thinks that forging a telegram saying that her husband has been killed in action should do the trick, (really not funny, Ms. Thompson.) His character is so annoying and so much of a music-hall moustache-twirling villain that one wonders why kids would be amused by this. Also in the cast are Ralph Fiennes and in a blink-or-you-may-miss-him role Ewan McGregor.

The 'big bang' of the title refers to a rogue bomb which is unwittingly dropped in the middle of the farm's barley field and which the crafty children manage to defuse themselves after the slightly senile warden has fainted away -- again not really a humour-laden plot device. Nanny's pet raven assists by pecking away at the putty protecting the last wire (a substance that it is addicted to we are told) and then becomes so bloated that its enormous fart creates enough energy to reap and bale all of the barley. What jolly japes!! I must confess that I know at least one eight-year old who thinks this movie is a hoot and there are the odd bits of business that youngsters could warm to -- in particular piglets that fly (yes, pigs will fly!) and perform synchronised swimming. There is also the odd baby elephant that Nanny magicks up. However the overall concoction is in such poor taste and so horrendously twee that older children and adults should find this film impossible to embrace. Please, Ms. Thompson, spare us another sequel updated to our own times.
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