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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Nanny McPhee Returns

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Lil Woods, Asa Butterfield, Oscar Steer and Emma Thompson, right, star in "Nanny McPhee Returns."
A sweetly nostalgic tale underpinned by lessons both children and their seniors would do well to take to heart, "Nanny McPhee Returns" (Universal) contains nothing genuinely objectionable. Running gags featuring mildly gross barnyard humor and a few scenes of slapstick violence, though, may give some parents pause.

Emma Thompson reprises her work as both writer and star, once again personifying the eerie but magically effective matron of the title in this second screen adventure based on Christianna Brand's "Nurse Matilda" series of children's books. This time she transports herself to wartime Britain—the first film was set in Victorian times—where she comes to the rescue of frazzled rural mother Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

With husband Rory (Ewan McGregor) away at the front, Isabel is failing spectacularly to cope with the raucous squabbling between her farm-bred brood—elder son Norman (Asa Butterfield), daughter Megsie (Lil Woods) and tow-headed tot Vincent (Oscar Steer)—and their snobbish London cousins Celia and Cyril Gray (Rosie Taylor-Ritson and Eros Vlahos). The latter are freshly arrived evacuees whose parents have sent them to the countryside for safety.

Thoroughly unimpressed by their new surroundings—surveying the Green's manure-laden farmyard, Cyril, in one of the script's many verbal and visual jokes on the subject, compares it to a "British museum of poo"—Celia and Cyril show an aggressive peevishness we later learn is due, at least in part, to parental indifference and emotional repression. Their temporarily fatherless cousins, needless to say, match them insult for insult and, all too soon, blow for blow.

Mysteriously appearing on Isabel's doorstep, the initially frightful-faced Nanny—who gets to look more and more like Emma Thompson as her charges' behavior improves—sets to work using the powers primarily vested in her gnarly (in every sense) walking stick to set things right. She soon has the children learning to cooperate, to share, to show courage in pursuing important goals and—especially after the war comes home to them in a potentially tragic fashion—to have faith in happy endings.

Nanny also works to thwart the schemes of Isabel's conniving brother-in-law Phil (Rhys Ifans) who—for reasons of his own—has been pressing Isabel to sign away the family homestead in Rory's absence.

Though the background conflict is intended to be both World War II and an archetypical, timeless struggle, the simple joys that delight the children—a picnic, a treat of ginger beer and the like—seem like those of an earlier era. And the closest thing to modern technology on display is an eccentric contraption of Rory's invention designed to calm piglets by simultaneously playing music to them on a gramophone and wielding a set of brushes to scratch their tummies soothingly.

Under the influence of one of Nanny's spells, said piglets contradict an old expression by flying through the air, then get together for a demonstration of balletic swimming that Esther Williams herself might have envied. Such scenes typify the silly but innocent fun of this family-friendly sequel.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I—general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.


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Thomas Aquinas: By universal consent, Thomas Aquinas is the preeminent spokesman of the Catholic tradition of reason and of divine revelation. He is one of the great teachers of the medieval Catholic Church, honored with the titles Doctor of the Church and Angelic Doctor. 
<p>At five he was given to the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino in his parents’ hopes that he would choose that way of life and eventually became abbot. In 1239 he was sent to Naples to complete his studies. It was here that he was first attracted to Aristotle’s philosophy. </p><p>By 1243, Thomas abandoned his family’s plans for him and joined the Dominicans, much to his mother’s dismay. On her order, Thomas was captured by his brother and kept at home for over a year. </p><p>Once free, he went to Paris and then to Cologne, where he finished his studies with Albert the Great. He held two professorships at Paris, lived at the court of Pope Urban IV, directed the Dominican schools at Rome and Viterbo, combated adversaries of the mendicants, as well as the Averroists, and argued with some Franciscans about Aristotelianism. </p><p>His greatest contribution to the Catholic Church is his writings. The unity, harmony and continuity of faith and reason, of revealed and natural human knowledge, pervades his writings. One might expect Thomas, as a man of the gospel, to be an ardent defender of revealed truth. But he was broad enough, deep enough, to see the whole natural order as coming from God the Creator, and to see reason as a divine gift to be highly cherished. </p><p>The <i>Summa Theologiae</i>, his last and, unfortunately, uncompleted work, deals with the whole of Catholic theology. He stopped work on it after celebrating Mass on December 6, 1273. When asked why he stopped writing, he replied, “I cannot go on.... All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.” He died March 7, 1274.</p> American Catholic Blog We talk often about how we are God’s “hands and feet,” which is true. That being said, we can’t fall into the trap of thinking God needs us like we need Him. He’s God—which makes the reality that He wants to use us and be in a relationship with us an even sweeter, more profound truth.

 
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