Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this
is right. “Honor your father and mother” —this
is the first commandment with a promise: “so
that it may be well with you and you may live
long on the earth.”
I suspect that that Paul’s exhortation to children might be one of Nanny McPhee’s favorite Scripture pas sages, she being a specialist in dealing with disobedient children. Although her magic-enhanced tactics would probably get her kicked out of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, there can be no doubt that they are effective—and loads of fun to watch. Emma Thompson returns to bring harmony to a chaotic house beset by unruly children in this tale set in England during World War Two. While Father Rory Green (Ewan McGregor) is away from the farm fighting the Germans, his wife Isabel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has more than she can cope with in tending the fields and livestock and controlling their three lively kids, Norman (Asa Butterfield), Vincent (Oscar Steer), and Megsie (Eros Vlahos). Add to that the arrival of two cousins being evacuated from London because of the Blitz.
Cyril (Eros Vlahos) and Celia (Rosie Taylor-Ritson) are the pampered, and thus haughty, children of widower Lord Gray (See full cast Ralph Fiennes). When they arrive by chauffeured limousine, they are very unimpressed by the unkempt farm, especially when their shoes sink into the mud. “Where are we?” Celia asks her brother, to which Cyril replies, “We are in the land of poo. Duck poo, cow poo, goat poo.” They demand to be taken back to London, but the chauffer has his orders. Thus, when poor Isabel, is unable to handle the five children, Nanny McPhee shows up, and is soon laying down the law, enforced by her unusual staff. It is fun to watch the children, at first so hostile to each other, as well as to her, begin to cooperate with one another in the matter of the escaped pigs that they chase all over the fields and woods.
Oh, yes, there are two other subplots. We have not mentioned yet good ole Uncle Phil Green (Rhys Ifans), who wants to force the selling of the farm in which he owns a part so that he can pay his gambling debts. You can see how this works out, much like that of the old mellerdramas in which the villain demands the rent or mortgage payment. The second, and far more touching subplot, is the estrangement of the Grey children from their overly busy father who holds a high government post, and the subsequent visit and tender reconciliation. A very moving moment amidst so many comedic scenes.
By the time that the children come around to accepting the call to obedience penned by the apostle Paul, of course, it is time for Nanny to exit—as Mrs. Docherty (Maggie Smith) explains, “When you need her but do not want her, then she must stay. When you want her, but no longer need her, then she has to go. I know from personal experience.” Note at the end how Nanny’s face has changed during the course of the story, a nice symbolic touch, reflecting the beauty of the new harmony she has brought to the Green and Gray families.
1. How does Christianna Brand, author of the Nanny McPhee stories, debunk the romantic view of “the innocence of children.” Compare her satirical approach, so well carried over into the two films, with the even darker treatment of William Golding in Lord of the Flies. How is this in line with the view of traditional Christian thinkers, such as the apostle Paul and St. Augustine? (e.g. “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..” (Rom. 3:23)
2. How does Cyril’s garish suit reflect his character and color our view of him at first?
What is the result of the children following their whims and desires rather than obeying their mother? How can Nanny be seen as the bringer of order out of chaos, much as God is depicted as doing so in the biblical story of creation? (See Gen. 1:1-5.)
3. How does the episode of rounding up the pigs show that the children are learning how to cooperate? Could they have been successful without it? How do they feel about their accomplishment?
4. What do you think of the inclusion of the scene with Lord Grey? What seems to have been the problem between him and his children? How is what happens a part of the creation of harmony in the film?
5. What do you make of the following statement (also in the first movie) by Mrs. Docherty? “You seem to have forgotten the way she works. When you need her but do not want her, then she must stay. When you want her, but no longer need her, then she has to go. I know from personal experience.” 6. How does the change in Nanny’s face at the end of the film a good reflection of the change in the children and their family relationships? How is harmony, or perhaps, we can use the biblical word “shalom,” the theme of the Nanny McPhee stories? Compare the end with such pictures as in Isaiah 11:6-9 and 65:25.