Overwhelmed and constantly in a state of scatty panic thanks to her three unruly kids, Isabel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is struggling to keep her farm ticking over while her husband (Ewan McGregor) is off fighting in World War II. With Rhys Ifans's sly Uncle Phil attempting to sell the property and her spoiled niece and nephew arriving from London to shelter from potential bombings, the problems are only piling up. Enter Nanny McPhee, who materialises in the countryside village with her magic stick and a flatulent crow for a sidekick. With the children bickering and fighting, the nanny quickly stamps herself on the household and sets about getting them to pass her five special tests so that she can lose her hideous looks and move on to help the next crisis-stricken family.
Big Bang is fast and funny enough to keep viewers involved for the duration, and director Susanna White (HBO's Generation Kill) steers the ship with entertaining filmic flourishes - notably a sequence when the children chase five pigs across the farm that climaxes in the animals indulging in a surreal synchronised swim. As a movie that's seeking an international audience, it does suffer at times from an overly-quaint representation of Britain (watch how a sojourn to London manages to throw aside geography and hit all the capital's landmarks!) and the supporting cast is like a merry-go-round for cameos - good (Bill Bailey), not-so-good (Katy Brand) and almost pointless (Ralph Fiennes, McGregor).
With the main arc centring on the frazzled Isabel and the kids' switch from hyperactive brats to best buddies, Thompson drops in and out to dish out guidance and conjure up some magical set pieces. While trying to put the sprogs to bed early on, she responds to a defiant proclamation of "I'd rather sleep with an elephant that share a bed" by sneaking one past Isabel and upstairs. The fantastical nature of the story could easily have sent Thompson into scenery-chewing mode, but she tackles it with restraint and quiet authority. Big Bang is supposedly the second part in a Nanny McPhee trilogy - let's hope the next one is as charming and pleasant as this.
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