Keeping Mum (ThinkFilm, R)

The English countryside setting nicely offsets some of the film's more jarring moments so that when those moments do come, they leave a lasting impression.

 

film_keepingmumThe ends justify the means-this is the underlying theme of Keeping Mum. At least from the lead character's skewed perspective and perverse sense of justice. And it is in the application of that view that Keeping Mum derives its very dark humor.

There is something both appealing and disturbing about the movie as a whole. The storyline surrounds an English vicar (Rowan Atkinson), his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas), and their children whose troubled lives are turned around with the addition of a new housekeeper (Maggie Smith). It is sort of the same storyline as The Bishop's Wife starring Cary Grant as an angel sent to help David Niven's bishop and his unhappy wife, Loretta Young. But where Grant's angel was heaven sent, Smith's housekeeper is quite firmly from the physical world. Lives are changed in both films, but the end results are not quite so neat in Keeping Mum.

The performances, even moreso than the plot, are the real strength of the film. Atkinson gives a surprisingly understated turn as the vicar. It's a great departure from his normally broad characters like Mr. Bean. He still finds moments of humor, to be sure, but also shows a wonderful depth as a man whose life has lost its passion somewhere along the way.

Thomas's portrayal of the long-suffering wife reflects perfectly the helplessness of being married to a man lacking that passion. It results in the central conflict of the film: whether to stay in a mundane marriage or run off with her lover, a golf pro played by Patrick Swayze with a fun sleaziness that is the polar opposite of many of his earlier characters.

It is, however, Smith's seemingly kindly old housekeeper that is the central performance that holds all the others together. Quaint on the surface, going about her duties dressed in a little housecoat, she is underneath the sharpest of all, missing nothing that goes on about her and setting everything straight as she deems it necessary. Laws and morality be damned.

It is that trait that produces much of the humor along with the darkness that leaves one feeling slightly uneasy about laughing.

Niall Johnson's direction provides a nice pacing to the film, allowing a relaxed atmosphere appropriate to the English countryside setting which nicely offsets some of the film's more jarring moments so that when those moments do come, they leave a lasting impression.

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