British filmmakers have a habit of crafting these dark comedies
that one either likes or one doesn't. I know several of my colleagues
don't seem to appreciate them and that's their loss as far as I'm
concerned. KEEPING MUM offers several pleasures, not the least of
which is the inestimable Dame Maggie Smith portraying a seemingly
sweet housekeeper who is hiding a whopper of a secret.
That the secret is detailed in the opening sequence is my
one caveat about the movie. I sort of understand why the writers
may have wished to tell the story straightforwardly, but in so doing
they have robbed a level of suspense from the film. It's a particularly
egregious error given that there is a perfect spot in the film where
the material could have been placed and detonated like a bombshell.
So, after this pre-credit opening sequence set more than
forty years in the past, the action of KEEPING MUM shifts to the
present to the very small town of Little Wallop. The vicar Walter
Goodfellow (a more subdued than usual Rowan Atkinson) struggles;
he's sort of an ineffectual but beloved figure in the town. He's also
completely oblivious to the happenings in his own family. Wife Gloria
(Kristin Scott Thomas) prefers to sleep late, ignores the housework
and flirts with her American golf instructor (Patrick Swayze). Son
Petey (Tobey Parkes) is the target of bullies at school and daughter
Holly (Tamsin Egerton) goes through boyfriends on a seemingly daily
Into these troubled lives arrives a new housekeeper --
Grace Hawkins (Smith) who makes it her mission to clean up
what she perceives are the messes in the family's lives. She
encourages the vicar to add humor to his sermons, turns Holly
on to the joy of cooking, dispatches the bullies tormenting Petey,
and opens Gloria's eyes to the man to whom she is married.
It turns out that Grace has a very personal reason why she
selected this family to assist. One can easily deduce what it
is thanks to the opening scenes.
The performances elevate KEEPING MUM to such an
enjoyable level. Maggie Smith rarely makes a misstep in her
acting career and, of late, she has offered one terrific performance
after another. I daresay she is one of those actors who COULD
read the telephone book in that plummy voice of hers and make it
entirely engrossing. As Grace, she perfectly captures the dual nature
of the character and delivers a standout performance. Throughout
his career Atkinson has often played the bumbler and the boob,
the stuttering priest in FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, the
cyclone that is MR. BEAN, for example. Here, he is nuanced and
low-key and quite enjoyable. Tamsin Egerton is quite effective as
Holly and there's strong support from the venerable character
actress Liz Smith as the town's busybody Mrs. Parker. Emilia
Fox (daughter of actors Edward Fox and Joanna David) deserves
special mention for portraying Smith's character as a young
For me, the real surprise was Kristin Scott Thomas. In past
roles, she has often projected a chilly quality, much like Isabelle
Huppert. And just as Huppert has learned to play with that aspect
of herself in recent films, Scott Thomas truly lets the audience
see a different side that she has rarely exposed on screen. Her
performance is a marvel and her rapport with Atkinson (with whom
she had appeared in FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL) and with
Smith (whom she acted alongside in GOSFORD PARK) is palpable.
Director Niall Johnson, who collaborated on the script with
Richard Russo deserves kudos for maintaining the tenor and tone
of the film. A black comedy such as KEEPING MUM requires a very
specific touch and Johnson handles the material with aplomb.
MPAA Rating: R for language and some
Running time: 103 mins.
Viewed at the Broadway Screening Room
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.