AWFJ Women On Film – “Nanny McPhee Returns” – Review by Susan Granger

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Rarely do sequels equal or exceed expectations but this comedy does, offering broad slapstick that’s guaranteed to elicit laughter from small children and their parents. Emma Thompson reprises the magical character she created in 2005’s “Nanny McPhee,” based on Christianna Brand’s “Nurse Matilda” books, not only starring but also writing the screenplay, as she did with the original.

Set during World War II, the family that the warty, uni-browed, snaggletoothed Mary Poppins-like Nanny visits this time is headed by a stressed-out mother who lives in the English countryside. While her soldier husband (Ewan McGregor) is off fighting, Mrs. Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her three children – Norman (Asa Butterfield), Megsie (Lil Woods) and Vincent (Oscar Steer) – are struggling to survive. Their lives are further complicated by the arrival of two spoiled, precocious cousins – Cyril and Celia (Eros Vlahos, Rosie Taylor-Ritson) – who have been dispatched from London in a purple Rolls Royce to escape the bombing – and a scheming subplot attempt by their devious, despicable Uncle Phil (Rhys Ifans) to sell off their farm to pay off his gambling debts.

Nanny McPhee’s mission is to teach the tiny shrieking terrors five vital lessons that will leave the family “wanting” but not “needing” her services. And, curiously, as each virtuous message is learned, Nanny McPhee’s foreboding appearance becomes less ugly and scary. When it was released abroad earlier this year as “Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang,” the reference was to the bombs dropped by “enemy” planes on England during the Blitz.

Best known for her work on the Iraq-themed TV series “Generation Kill,” director Susannah White elicits fine performances from her entire cast, including sturdy supporting turns from Ralph Fiennes, Bill Bailey and Maggie Smith. The best scenes involve animals: flying piglets proficient at synchronized swimming, climbing trees and Scrabble, along with a pen-stealing baby elephant, flatulent black bird, barnyard mud and poo.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Nanny McPhee Returns” is an irreverent yet sweetly sentimental 7, a delightful late summer diversion.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.