Directed by John Stephenson, starring Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Izzard, Zoë Wanamaker, Freddie Highmore, Jonathan Bailey, Jessica Claridge, Poppy Rogers.

'Five Children and It' is adapted from E Nesbit's entertaining, but now infrequently read, 1902 book of the same name. Perhaps it's best that most of the audience won't know the story because director John Stephenson and scriptwriter David Solomons have taken huge liberties with the text, leaving behind just a shadow of Nesbit's original tale. 

The action has been moved from Victorian times to World War II, with the five children getting evacuated (by train - nods to Nesbit's 'Railway Children') from London to a rambling house by the sea, presided over by their dotty Uncle Albert (Branagh in fine scenery-chomping form). Bored one day, they explore the conservatory, the one place they're forbidden to enter, and discover a secret path to a beach where the sun always seems to shine.

It's there that they come across a grumpy sand fairy (clunkily animated by Jim Henson's Creature Shop and voiced with great dedication by Izzard) who can grant wishes. That the effects of the wishes only last till sunset, and that they always seem to have a sting in the tail for the wishers, doesn't stop the children from landing themselves into all kinds of innocent scrapes. 

Freddie Highmore (soon to appear in 'Finding Neverland' and currently filming the title role in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory') is annoyingly perfect as brattish little Robert, while his priggish older brother Cyril, played by Jonathan Bailey, has a more difficult time of it. The girls of the family barely register and, besides, all five children play second fiddle to Eddie Izzard's comical, free-associating It.

Without the special effects big bucks that have given the Harry Potter films such a 'woah!' factor, 'Five Children and It' feels like a relic from another, simpler era. This old-fashioned outing may appeal more to parents with fond memories of E Nesbit than to their offspring. A perfectly respectable family film.

Caroline Hennessy