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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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Augustine of Canterbury: In the year 596, some 40 monks set out from Rome to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons in England. Leading the group was Augustine, the prior of their monastery in Rome. Hardly had he and his men reached Gaul (France) when they heard stories of the ferocity of the Anglo-Saxons and of the treacherous waters of the English Channel. Augustine returned to Rome and to the pope who had sent them—St. Gregory the Great (September 3 )—only to be assured by him that their fears were groundless. 
<p>Augustine again set out. This time the group crossed the English Channel and landed in the territory of Kent, ruled by King Ethelbert, a pagan married to a Christian, Bertha. Ethelbert received them kindly, set up a residence for them in Canterbury and within the year, on Pentecost Sunday, 597, was himself baptized. After being consecrated a bishop in France, Augustine returned to Canterbury, where he founded his see. He constructed a church and monastery near where the present cathedral, begun in 1070, now stands. As the faith spread, additional sees were established at London and Rochester. </p><p>Work was sometimes slow and Augustine did not always meet with success. Attempts to reconcile the Anglo-Saxon Christians with the original Briton Christians (who had been driven into western England by Anglo-Saxon invaders) ended in dismal failure. Augustine failed to convince the Britons to give up certain Celtic customs at variance with Rome and to forget their bitterness, helping him evangelize their Anglo-Saxon conquerors </p><p>Laboring patiently, Augustine wisely heeded the missionary principles—quite enlightened for the times—suggested by Pope Gregory the Great: purify rather than destroy pagan temples and customs; let pagan rites and festivals be transformed into Christian feasts; retain local customs as far as possible. The limited success Augustine achieved in England before his death in 605, a short eight years after he arrived in England, would eventually bear fruit long after in the conversion of England. Augustine of Canterbury can truly be called the “Apostle of England.”</p> American Catholic Blog A hero isn’t someone born with unconquerable strength and selflessness. Heroes are not formed in a cataclysmic instant. Heroism is developed over time, one decision after another, moment by moment, formed by a deliberate, chosen, and habitual response to life.

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