NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS is a bright and bouncy – albeit disappointing – sequel based on the Nurse Matilda series by Christianna Brand and starring Emma Thompson as the beloved nanny.
Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is struggling to hold onto her husband’s (Ewan McGregor) farm while he is off fighting in World War II. Assaulted at all times by her criminal brother-in-law (Rhys Ifans, using the opportunity to be an absolute ham) and rowdy children (Oscar Steer, Asa Butterfield, and Lil Woods), Green is forced to consider the sale of the family farm until Nanny McPhee appears. Nanny McPhee, who uses her indescribable ugliness and sternness to tame the children and their spoiled-brat cousins (Eros Vlahos and Rosie Taylor-Ritson), also manages to do a spectacular job of saving the farm from bankruptcy, robbery, and even violent destruction. As the children learn their lessons, McPhee’s hideous visage becomes more and more tolerable, through a mix of special effects transitions and sturdy make-up work, .
As written and played by Thompson, McPhee is quite simply the darkly dressed, crueler version of that other memorable nanny, Mary Poppins. Thompson gives the role dignity and believability, insofar as any character who makes pigs fly and speaks to ravens can be believable. Gyllenhaal, donning a false English accent and more floral dresses than in her most notable roles (SECRETARY, CRAZY HEART, or THE DARK KNIGHT), does not seem to be the most natural casting choice, but she gives the role of a harried mother all she’s got. Such reliable British talents as the unctuous Ifans, Maggie Smith and Sam Kelly as a dotty married couple, comedian Bill Bailey as a farm, and Ralph Fiennes and Ewan McGregor in effective cameos provide a high pedigree, unusual for such a typical child-oriented film. Their presence make NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS a sweet but wispy pleasure for viewers of all ages.
NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS (a.k.a. NANNY MCPHEE AND THE BIG BANG: UK release, May 2010; US release, August 20, 2010). Directed by Susanna White. Screenplay by Emma Thompson, based on the Nurse Matilda series by Christianna Brand. Cast: Nanny McPhee – Emma Thompson; Isabel Green – Maggie Gyllenhaal; Phil Green – Rhys Ifans; Vincent Green – Oscar Steer; Norman Green – Asa Butterfield; Megsie Green – Lil Woods; Mrs. Docherty – Maggie Smith.