Reviewed by: Scott Brennan
|Featuring:||Ewan McGregor (Mr. Green), Ralph Fiennes (Lord Gray), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Mrs. Green), Emma Thompson (Nanny McPhee), Rhys Ifans (Uncle Phil), more »|
|Producer:||Universal Pictures, Studio Canal, Relativity Media, Working Title Films, Three Strange Angels, Emma Thompson, more »|
“Things are going to get ugly!”
Prequel to this film: “Nanny McPhee” (2006)
Nanny McPhee is no ordinary nanny; that is for sure. She shows up mysteriously at the Green house, because the children there “need her,” although they insist they don’t want her. As Nanny McPhee says in the movie, “There is something you should understand about the way I work. When you need me, but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me, but no longer need me—then I have to go.” Her persona is very much like Mary Poppins, only in more of a dark and foreboding disguise, at first. She has a protruding front tooth, two large facial moles and is dressed in black attire fit for Puritan women in the 1600’s. She is not pleasant to look at, to say the least. But don’t let that fool you. She has wondrous lessons to teach, and wisdom beyond what you can see on the surface. And, as the children learn each of the 5 lessons she has been sent to teach them, an unattractive feature of Nanny McPhee disappears—one at a time—implying that she only looked ugly to them, because they themselves were so dreadful on the inside. [My interpretation] But I digress.
The title, “Nanny McPhee Returns,” infers there was a first film (“Nanny McPhee”), which is true. It was hailed as a successful family film by many, and it was a surprise hit in 2006. Full disclosure here—I never saw it. Because of that fact, I went to see this film feeling handicapped and, also, with a bit of a bias, knowing that sequels rarely live up to their successful prequels. However, after about 15 minutes into the plot, I made my first notation: “Note to self: See the prequel. If this film has hooked me this quickly, the first one must really be good!” Well, here you have it at the top. I really liked this movie.
I do know the film is based on the British children’s book series from the 1960’s called Nurse Matilda, and I also know the screenplay (for both films) was written by none other than Academy Award® winner, Emma Thompson, who also stars in the film as the Nanny herself. She is supported by a brilliant cast including Maggie Gyllenhaal (“Crazy Heart”), who believably portrays the overwhelmed mother of three, Mrs. Isabel Green. She is a young mom, working part-time and trying to raise the kids and keep a farm going outside of London, while her husband Rory (Ewan McGregor) is off to fight during the WW II era (or so it seemed).
The entire film has this familiar feeling to it, kind of like a story book come to life. The surrealistic countryside of England, a la 1940’s, made it seem as if the 4 children from the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis could easily have appeared on screen as some distant cousins and joined the Green children on their farm to share in their adventures. However, it should be noted that Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy had far better manners than Norman, Megsie, and Vincent, and even more so than the manners of Cyril and Celia—who actually were the rich cousins from London that did show up at the Green farm—for a prearranged visit with no return date.
The plot revolves around Isabel’s brother-in-law, Phil (Rhys Ifans) and his efforts to get Isabel to sell her half of the farm to him, as he desperately needs to pay off some gambling debts. He is half-owner of the farm, but his brother, Isabel’s husband, is off to war and hasn’t been heard from in a very long time. The shenanigans and tom foolery that occurs with him trying to get her “to sell,” while avoiding Mrs. Topsey and Mrs. Turvey (two over-the-top blond women sent out to collect the gambling debt) is worth the price of the ticket, just for the laughs. It’s classic slapstick like Laurel and Hardy or the 3 Stooges. That, combined with the magic of CGI and seeing piglets do synchronized swimming, or a baby elephant sleeping in bed with a boy, was worth its weight in movie gold. And finally, seeing the well-worn phrase, “When pigs fly…” come to life on the big screen was laugh-out-loud-funny!
There is the small role of Mrs. Docherty, played by another favorite of mine, Maggie Smith, who has her own special surprise in the film during the dénouement, which I won’t give away. But the cameo of Ralph Fiennes, who played the character of Lord Gray, Cyril’s father, is my favorite one of the entire motion picture. There is a scene between Lord Gray and Cyril in the war room of London (a great metaphor) where a father-son reconciliation of sorts takes place and which speaks so powerfully in the film.
The scripture that was quickened to me during this scene was from 1 Cor 4:15—Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel [NIV]. In this scene I was reminded of several recent films that I have reviewed (“Flipped,” “Ramona and Beezus” and “The Perfect Game”) in which there were powerful words spoken over a child by the father that were either negative or very positive which had an incredible impact on the life of that child. This film also underscores the importance of the role of the father in children’s lives—in a very moving way.
While I would love to delineate each of the 5 lessons that Nanny McPhee teaches the children, I will not, for the sake of brevity, but more so out of respect for those who intend to see the film or rent the DVD when it comes out. What I will say is that they are good lessons, moral ones, and ones which have easy parallels to the Christian walk. The first 2 are ones that we may have learned in kindergarten, but need to be reminded of from time to time. The last 3 are ones that we should know as Christian adults, but may need a reminder about, especially for the last one which is well-defined in Hebrews 11:6.
As I stated above, the film has a little bit of a dark overtone, particularly in the first 20 minutes. There is a dark bird that flies about and a voice that’s calling out for Nanny McPhee in the wind. There is a scene where drawers and cupboards and boots are moving about that would have frightened me, as I child—that I know for sure. There are also a few scary moments when Nanny McPhee makes the children stop their fighting with one another and start fighting with themselves, including throwing themselves onto the carpet and breaking china (which eventually gets put back together).
There is, also, a bit of silly kid humor about cow pooh, chicken pooh, and “the land of pooh,” as Cyril refers to the Green farm in the movie, and even a scene where Mrs. Docherty insists on sitting on a cow patty—which was a little odd. I counted only one “h” word, which is only used in a description, not really as profanity. The burly women, Topsey and Turvey are kind of intimidating and definitely too much for small children. There is also a scene where Megsie has to diffuse a bomb, which, even though it was all fantasy, still felt too intense for smaller children, in my opinion.
As to the objections that some parents may have about magic and such, I can say that this film is no Harry Potter. It is more like Mary Poppins-meets-Narnia. As for me, I chose to interpret the character of McPhee as a prophetic angel figure. She banged her staff on the ground (like Moses or Aaron), and she caused things to happen like the angels did in the Bible (people not being able to speak temporarily, or having a dislocated hip and so on). It has a more benevolent feeling to it, and the movie promotes family values and morals throughout; however, I will concede it names no source for the moral compass that is presented.
As a child, I read so many different kinds of books that I didn’t find this film threatening or off-kilter in any way. I really think it is a great family film, especially for older children, perhaps 8 and above. Parents should use caution when viewing with little ones, after reading what I have said in the previous paragraphs. On the other hand, there are so many positives that could be discussed after seeing this movie with a child that there wouldn’t be room enough to write about them all. This movie is clever, funny, witty and charming altogether. Emma Thompson is a delight as Nanny McPhee. I really want Nanny McPhee to come to my house, which means, of course, she won’t—because I really don’t need her. Maybe 1 Cor 13:11 has some application here:
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
One of my favorite lines in the movie is Nanny McPhee’s deadpan statement about who she is:
“I am Nanny McPhee. Small ‘c’, big ‘P.’”
That may help me sum up this film. It’s a small “c” for Christian content, but a big “P” for Promoting Positive values.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Minor
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.