To say the Brown children misbehave is an understatement of magnificent proportions. These seven motherless children are down right naughty.Sneaking down to the kitchen, they whack the cook (Imelda Staunton) over the head with a frying pan before tying her up and ransacking the kitchen. They drive their seventeenth nanny screaming from the house after pretending to eat the baby, and one brother routinely decapitates dolls and teddy bears with his guillotine.
The situation is so bad the local employment agency refuses to answer Mr. Brown's (Colin Firth) inquiries for more help.
Fortunately, Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) doesn't work for the agency. Arriving unbidden on the family's doorstep, the bulbous-nosed woman with the warty chin and black attire immediately takes measures to restore peace.
Given the challenge of a new victim, Simon (Thomas Sangster) and his siblings assume they can run off this hired help as easily as the others. They introduce themselves with bogus names (body parts and bathroom terminology), intending to rattle her. But Nanny McPhee, unruffled by their rude humor, insists on proper manners and uses her magical touch to enforce them. With firm but tender composure, she ensures the rowdy offspring experience the consequences of their choices
Knowing she can only stay as long as she is needed, Nanny McPhee promptly goes about establishing calm in the chaotic household by helping the children deal with the loss of their mother and their father's lack of attention. When their stuffy and bossy Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) arrives for tea, she also helps the brood use their heads to solve a familial dilemma.
However, even she can't interfere with matters of the heart. So when Mr. Brown--a mortician who talks to his deceased clients--presents Mrs. Quickly (Celia Imrie) as a possible stepmother, the children are left to their own devices to scare her off. Unfortunately, in an attempt to shield the bawdy widow from his children's nasty pranks, the father's actions are misconstrued as overt sexual advances.
In addition to playing the robust nursemaid, Emma Thompson penned the screenplay based on the Nurse Matilda series. Over and above the rambunctious progeny, her characters include two comical funeral assistants and Evangeline (Kelly Macdonald), a self-conscious scullery maid. While the outcome is predictable, the colorful sets and inevitable food fight will likely entertain older children.
Whether or not Nanny McPhee sparks another reading frenzy like Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia, her insistence on civility and her corresponding kindness demonstrates it's not necessarily bad to carry a big stick as long as you have an equally big heart.