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Sporting a prosthetic bulb-nose, a faceful of warts, and a lumpy torso Lon Chaney might envy, the usually elegant Emma Thompson makes for a grotesque presence in this rather dark children's fantasy — at least until her character's no-nonsense good works start to score points with the seven unruly brats in her care and she begins to shed her deformities, one by one. Thompson's sour nanny (she first appeared in a series of Sixties books by Christianna Brand) is the anti-Mary Poppins, and the movie's bleak tone suggests Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket. But in the end, the redeemed children and their beautified keeper float off on a cloud of delightful contrivance. Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine) directs with skill, Thompson's screenplay (this is a labor of love) is witty, and the classy cast includes Colin Firth (as the kids' baffled widower-father), Angela Lansbury, Imelda Staunton, and Celia Imrie. Good fun.

Now playing at select local theaters


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