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The sequel to Nanny McPhee is a labor of love for British star Emma Thompson. Not only did she write the script and star in the film, she also created a sense of warmth and comfort on set that made its way into the movie. Thompson told me in an interview while she promoted the film in Atlanta that she "cooked a lot of roasts" during set breaks for co-star Maggie Gyllenhaal and others. That defines the cozy quality of the Nanny McPhee films. "Two mothers sharing a meal? What more do you want?" she asked.
McPhee arrives, ugly and mole-spotted, when a family most needs her and becomes beautiful as the children learn from her. She teaches through whimsical magic. "I like her mischief and her wisdom and her patience," said Thompson, "and the fact she has a sort of madness about her."
In Nanny McPhee Returns (rated PG), she comes back to help an entirely new family headed up by Isabel Green (Gyllenhaal), a mother trying to hold her family and farm together in her soldier husband's absence. Two cousins have fled London bombing to join the Green family's three children on the farm. The children clash, leaving Green with five shouting, hitting, bickering hellions. That's when Nanny McPhee shows up. Using her crooked magical cane, she teaches the children five lessons. The first is every parent's wish: Stop fighting. Gyllenhaal, more radiant than a character in a kids' flick has a right to be, brings the role of harried but loving mother to life in a delightful film where pigs do water ballet and a snuggly baby elephant appears. The resolution of the story, involving the absent father, packs a surprising emotional punch.
Thompson hopes her homey passion project encourages similar togetherness in families. "That's the whole point of a really good movie, isn't it? Something to be shared."