Dir: Kirk Jones. UK 2005. 98mins

Emma Thompson makes her long-awaited return toactress-screenwriter mode (her first since Sense& Sensibility, for which she won several major awards) with Nanny McPhee,a family film based on the Nurse Mathilda children's books.

Also appearing in this taleof seven motherless children, their hapless father (Firth) and theirastonishingly ugly nanny (Thompson) is Angela Lansbury,returning to the big screen after a 20-year absence.

Her presence among the cast onlyadds to the overall feeling that Thompson has put Bedknobs And Broomsticks into a blender, adding a dash of Chitty Chitty BangBang, a pinch of The Railway Children and a shake of The Sound Of Music before rounding it all off with an extra-largehelping of Mary Poppins.

It appears amid a crop ofeagerly awaited features for the younger end of the family market, rolling outin territories like the UK just after Wallace& Gromit: The Curse Of TheWere-Rabbit and ahead of the new HarryPotter and the first in the ChroniclesOf Narnia series.

As such, Nanny McPheeshould prove a welcome spoonful of nostalgia for adults with young families -although their children are more likely to be drawn by the sub-Harry Potter chord with its liberal useof magic elements.

The core audience in the UK,where it enjoys a release on Oct 21 just ahead of the half-term holiday, shouldbe children in the five to 12-year-old bracket (in urban areas the upper end ofthe age scale may be lower).

Beyond that Nanny McPhee willrequire careful handling, and star-based marketing willhampered by the fact that Thompson is unrecognisable for the most part. But thisis quality family entertainment, which should win through if it is scheduledappropriately, and, like its antecedents, become a staple of Christmas TVviewing.

The story, which plays tothe nostalgia gallery, opens in a rambling house in the English countryside duringsome quasi-Victorian period. There, impoverished undertaker, widower, andfather of seven children Mr Brown has been given anultimatum by his great aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury):marry in a month, or she'll cut off his allowance and the children will beseparated and sent into care.

Thechildren themselves, led by Love, Actually's Thomas Sangster, haven'thelped matters, and are so impossibly naughty that they've run through asuccession of nannies despite the best efforts of their young maid Evangeline(Kelly Macdonald).

Enter Nanny McPhee, warts and all - and enter,from another corner, the equally terrifying, although for different reasons,Mrs Quickly (Celia Imrie), who has designs on thehapless Mr Brown.

This is sprightlyentertainment from Thompson, who takes evident delight in her heavy disguiseand supreme on-screen uglification. Firth gives goodromantic support, the children charm, the fairytale aspects work, and there'sall the RADA character-work (Jacobi, Staunton) requiredfrom an old-fashioned British family movie.

Sometimes it can feel tooperfectly worked out and, like many Working Title films, has a tendency toover-egg the finale in a wedding sequence which is over-the-top, even for apotential audience which likes to dress for school in pink and purple sequins.

Technical credits, includingcolourful production design, are solid throughout, and round off asmoothly-executed feature from director Kirk Jones, his first since 1998's Waking Ned.

Production companies
Universal Pictures
Working Title Films
Three Strange Angels
Nanny MacPhee Productions

Lindsay Doran
Tim Bevan
Eric Fellner

Co- producer
Glynis Murray


US distribution

Emma Thompson from the Nurse Matilda children's book series by Christianna Brand

Henry Braham

Production design
Michael Howells

Patrick Doyle

Main cast
Emma Thompson

Colin Firth
Angela Lansbury
Kelly Macdonald
Imelda Staunton
Thomas Sangster
Derek Jacobi
Celia Imrie