On paper, adapting the children's fantasy classic by Railway Children author E Nesbit - the JK Rowling of 1906 - is a brilliant and commercially astute idea. Unfortunately, the Brit-film result is rarely better than pleasant, despite a cast boasting a manic Kenneth Branagh, a spritely Zoë Wanamaker and an underused Tara Fitzgerald.
David Solomon's screenplay takes vast, fatal liberties with the unimprovable source: deleting acres of plot, bumping the turn-of-the-century kids and their wish-granting sand fairy to World War One England and adding main characters (nasty fat boy, eccentric uncle, flying-ace dad) shamelessly filched from Harry Potter. An overbearingly `spooky' score, the ruthless pace and depressing, dated Henson's Creature Shop animatronics make for a thin, faintly cheap and largely unmagical experience.
So thank God for the brilliance of a cranky, free-wheeling Eddie Izzard, riffing madly away as the voice of the plastic-looking fairy. It's his film, stolen from well-spoken child actors who stand around in charming period costumes.