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Movie Review

Isabelle Green vows she's not on the verge of having a nervous breakdown. She says she and her three children—Norman, Megsie and Vincent—are coping beautifully. Never mind the fact that her kids sass her, scuffle and screech while her husband fights in World War II. Izzy, who occasionally screeches herself, proclaims that they're just fine, thank you. And when her wealthy niece and nephew from London, Celia and Cyril, join the family on their farm for, seemingly, the express purpose of terrorizing their much less refined country cousins, Izzy still insists that she and her charges are just dandy.

Beyond the household squabbling, the Greens are in jeopardy of losing both their harvest and the family farm if they can't make a tractor payment. Izzy's sniveling brother-in-law, Phil, owns half of the estate and desperately needs to sell it to pay off his gambling debt. So when he isn't trying to sabotage the Greens, he's pressuring Izzy to sign away the deed.

It's all under control, Izzy would have you know.

Luckily, the mysterious—and hideously ugly—Nanny McPhee blows back onto the screen to have another go. And she sees everything as it really is: The children are out of control, Mrs. Green needs help, and Phil is a petty crook. She gets right to work.

Positive Elements

Though her methods are beyond any parent's natural abilities, Nanny McPhee serves as a point of inspiration for families as she teaches her charges discipline, respect, tidiness and manners. And despite their rocky start, the children come to appreciate, sacrifice for and love one another. They also learn teamwork, with Megsie and the gang even risking their lives to defuse an enemy bomb that falls into their barley field. Celia apologizes for destroying Izzy's wedding dress. Cyril and his military officer father grow (slightly) closer, each coming to respect and appreciate the other more.

Izzy gently tolerates a dotty older woman who works in her shop and causes multiple messes. She also graciously accepts Celia's apology for the dress.

Spiritual Content

Mary Poppins has her parrot head. Nanny McPhee has her knotty walking stick. It's the source of all disciplinary magic—and whenever she bangs it on the ground, sparks fly and situations change dramatically. Exotic animals appear, pigs fly and children instantly obey adults' commands. Inanimate objects such as boots, drawers, pots and trees speak and move to announce the nanny's imminent arrival.

The source of her power is never explained. In fact, it's called "classified."

Sexual Content

Mr. and Mrs. Green embrace and kiss. Her skirt hikes up pretty high while going down a makeshift slide.

Violent Content

Children punch, slap, pull hair, hit, kick, wrestle aggressively and chase one another. The nanny's out-of-this-world discipline eventually causes the kids to punch themselves, pull their own ears or bang their heads against walls until they learn their lessons. While under her spell, Vincent destroys a tea service and a vase.

Adults and children are knocked over or fall, sometimes from considerable heights. Phil sits on a hot skillet. A bit of tension is involved in the kids trying to defuse a huge bomb.

When Cyril and Celia break something that's precious to the Green children, Norman says, "They die!" Other threats include "I'll mash you" and "I'll kill you for this." Women sent to collect Phil's gambling debt manhandle him and say they'll take his kidneys if he doesn't pony up. Later they're shown dressed as nurses, ready to "stuff" the goofy but terrified Phil. (They get blown away in a strong wind.)

Crude or Profane Language

The British profanities "bloody" and "blimey" are used once or twice, as is the much more American "h---." God's name is directly misused once or twice, too. Name-calling includes "poo-man," "beast," "idiot " and "fool."

Drug and Alcohol Content


Other Negative Elements

"Poo" becomes the source of many onscreen gags since the Greens live on a working—and therefore very "pooey"—farm. Cyril calls his new temporary home the "land of poo," and there's a close-up of a cow kindly providing more of that "poo." Mrs. Dacherty knowingly sits on a wet cow patty "cushion" and calls it very comfortable. Nanny McPhee takes the blame when a cow noisily passes gas.

A bird burps loudly and repeatedly—once so forcefully that its gastric tornado knocks people over and harvests a whole field of grain. Cyril vomits (out of the frame) and then wipes a messy hand on a car's interior. At first both Cyril and Celia are horribly disrespectful to everyone, demanding their own way and destroying other people's property. Their parents are cold and the children feel abandoned—which they more or less are. Cyril accuses his dad of making everyone's life miserable—which he mostly does.

Phil lies repeatedly and shirks responsibility. He also lets the Greens' prize piglets loose, knowing that their lucrative sale would mean the family could pay for a tractor and keep the farm he wants to profit from. To throw Phil's schemes off, Celia lies about seeing a mouse and screams for 30 minutes.

McPhee's disciplinary methods include blatant threats. If, for example, Vincent doesn't apologize for a particular discretion, the nanny will burn the bundle of his father's letters.


Based on British author Christianna Brand's Nurse Matilda book series, Nanny McPhee Returns (a sequel to Nanny McPhee, of course) aims to enchant children—and does just that. Giggles and squeals were par for the course at the screening I attended.

And while they were giggling, they were learning some good stuff, too. In order to repair the fractures in her newest adopted family, Nanny McPhee must teach her young charges five lessons: 1) Stop fighting, 2) Share nicely, 3) Help each other, 4) Be brave, 5) Have faith.

This snaggletoothed supernanny appears when she is most needed and least wanted. She leaves when she is most wanted and least needed. And as children mind her and learn through her paranormal authority, she becomes more and more beautiful to all who see her.

There's only one wart we need to talk further about. And it's revealed in Lesson 5. As it's learned onscreen, there's no evidence of exactly what we should be having faith in. But the implication is threefold: in ourselves, in our own gut feelings and in magic. Nowhere is the thought ever actually completed, but if it were, it would have to read this way: "Have faith in the supernatural cosmos, but not necessarily in God." That sounds harsh. And it is, a bit. But I offer it to make this point: We often see clever, enjoyable, very charming avoidances of God's full truth in the movies we see—in the movies we show our kids. Fantastical contraptions, cute animals and warm fuzzies hide the harshness. But the idea is still there in a pleasantly packaged, miss-it-if-you-blink sort of way.

That doesn't mean Nanny McPhee Returns should be treated like an R-rated assault on children's innocence and spiritual purity. But it does mean families should engage with it on a deeper level than, say, an episode of Phineas and Ferb.

I grew up on a steady diet of exactly this sort of feel-good movie. As a result, in my childhood and early teens I was more confused than I should have been when my developing devotion to having "a little faith"—even in God—didn't somehow make things suddenly (magically) better. In my late teens I learned the hard way that happy endings don't necessarily pop up at the end of every bad situation. So, again, I say, "Talk!" Make these subjects part of the post-movie ice cream experience for your family. Walk through the fantasy, the truth, the lies, the temptations, the inspirations. Don't just let the themes presented soak in all on their own—get out your own magical walking stick and use it build on them.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

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Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range



Emma Thompson as Nanny McPhee; Ralph Fiennes as Lord Gray; Ewan McGregor as Mr. Green; Maggie Gyllenhaal as Mrs. Green; Maggie Smith as Mrs. Docherty; Rhys Ifans as Uncle Phil; Asa Butterfield as Norman Green; Eros Vlahos as Cyril Gray; Lil Woods as Megsie Green; Oscar Steer as Vincent Green; Rosie Taylor-Ritson as Celia Gray; Bill Bailey as Farmer MacReadie; Sinead Matthews as Miss Topsey; Katy Brand as Miss Turvey


Susanna White ( )


Universal Pictures



Record Label



In Theaters

August 20, 2010

On Video

December 14, 2010

Year Published



Meredith Whitmore

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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