Every little thing Emma Thompson does is magic. Her new film, Nanny McPhee Returns , is no exception.
Nanny McPhee (played impeccably by Thompson) is a magical nanny that “must stay when she is needed but not wanted, but has to go when she is wanted but no longer needed.”
Much like the 2005 original, this story (written and produced by Thompson) begins with a family that is out of sorts and stressed because one parent is missing from the picture.
While her husband is away at war, Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is trying her best to manage three fighting children, a farm that’s in disrepair and a job as a shopkeeper. Her life is further complicated by her brother-in-law Phil’s (Rhys Ifans) constant scheming to make her sell her husband’s share of the farm and an indefinite visit from her wealthy Londoner niece and nephew, Celia (Rosie Taylor-Ritson) and Cyril (Eros Vlahos).
The minute the family’s rude cousins arrive, a new war is waged as the Green children, Norman (Asa Butterfield), Megsie (Lil Woods) and Vincent (Oscar Steer), do their best to make Celia and Cyril feel very unwelcome. It’s at the height of this conflict that Nanny McPhee makes her magical entrance.
With the help of synchronized swimming pigs, a flying motorcycle and a burping blackbird, the children are taught the five lessons that they need to make their life more fulfilling and peaceful.
The film’s whimsical colors and set design bring to mind childhood classics like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Mary Poppins and my personal favorite, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
The actors who play the children are refreshing and real, and Ifans (Notting Hill) is brilliant as the smarmy Uncle Phil. Even Gyllenhaal, who can sometimes be hard to warm to, is surprisingly believable as a frazzled parent and a wife who is madly in love with her absent husband.
Other veteran actors who turn up here in brief roles include Maggie Smith and Ralph Fiennes.
Although this film has its sillier moments, Nanny McPhee Returns is a touching story of family, faith and forgiveness. Thompson should be applauded for her screenplays based on Christianna Brand’s character Nurse Matilda (a favorite of her childhood). With them, she’s created a classic children’s character for generations to come.
Nanny McPhee Returns
PG; 108 min.