Nanny McPhee Returns, 2010, UK
Set in Rural UK during World War II, Nanny McPhee Returns follows the same premise of the first film: a group of unruly children have their lives improved by a magical nanny (Emma Thompson).
Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is at her wits’ end. She is alone caring for her three children and her niece and nephew while her husband is off fighting in the war. Her brother-in-law, Phil, (Rhys Ifans) owns half the farm and is trying to persuade Isabel to sell the other half. In steps in Nanny McPhee, who helps the children get along and teaches them five important life lessons.
Admittedly it’s been so long since I saw the first film that I don’t remember much of anything from it, so I missed all but the most obvious references to the first film. But, taken on its own, this film is charming and lovely. It handles a difficult period in English history in a child-friendly way, but also manages to keep its sense of humour. There are some very good visual gags throughout (watch for an especially funny one featuring an airplane). And, of course, Thompson is an absolute delight in the film. Asa Butterfield plays one of the children, and it took me a few minutes before I recognized him, as this film came out a few years before Hugo, which is his breakthrough role to me. He was quite good in this film, as the oldest and unofficial leader of the five children.
The film doesn’t forget the importance of a good heart, and it’s incredibly touching. You genuinely feel for the characters, even the cousins who were initially spoiled brats. Instead, the film delves into their characters and we discover why they’re so spoiled in the first place, and the audience sympathizes with them.
Nanny McPhee Returns is a lovely family film (or a movie to watch on a quiet Friday night alone, if you’re like me!), and was just recently added to Netflix.