This episode is set in World War II, with Maggie Gyllenhaal as a young mother unable to keep control of her three fractious children (Oscar Steer, Asa Butterfield, and Lil Woods) while managing the family farm and helping at the village store while her husband is away to war. Things go over the top when she is additionally saddled with her sister’s children (Eros Vlahos and Rosie Taylor-Ritson) who have been sent to the country out of the London Blitz zone.
The resemblance to any Narnian idyl ends there, however: “Cyril” (Vlahos) and Celia (Sadie) resent being uprooted from their high-class existence and exiled to what is essentially “Cold Comfort Farm.” Cyril in particular makes his displeasure known with nasty and spiteful behavior that touches off open warfare between the cousins, which is the cue for Nanny McPhee to make her ominous entrance to set things right. (As we later see, Cyril and Celia have their own issues, which are reasons good enough for family comedy, for them to be bratty.) Nanny also is followed by an unnaturally intelligent jackdaw she talks to, which allows her to comment on the action without always talking to the audience.
In this film, Nanny McPhee is more overt and open about her use of magical powers, but also allows the children considerable leeway in resolving their own issues, whether they derive from their own behavior, or the machinations of their ne’er-do-well uncle, who is nominal half owner of the farm and wants it sold to cover his gambling debts. There are some fairly good if not pushy gender-role lessons as well. Cyril and Norman (Butterfield) have to rely on eloquence and emotion to resolve their problem with The War Office, whereas the girls get to defuse the “enemy bomb” using their various tool kits. And speaking of gender roles, “Miss Topsey” and “Miss Turvey” (Sinead Matthews and Katy Brand), the female frighteners who are set on Uncle Phil (Rhys Ifans) to collect from him, are delightful if evil creations.
All in all, we found it a sweet, silly, sentimental film and good fun for a summer’s evening. (And Cyril’s “We’re in the Land of Poo,” may replace “We’re in deep doo-doo,” as a catchphrase at our house--.)
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