November 9, 2006

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Keeping Mum (R)
Even when they murder, the British remain devoted to tea and civility in Keeping Mum, a fluffy little comedy.

The Reverend Walter Goodfellow (Rowan Atkinson) might live in a town with only 57 people but he doesn't seem to have a good handle on life in Little Wallop. His wife Gloria (Kristen Scott Thomas) is undersexed and over-stressed a fact he's dimly aware of even if he doesn't realize that she's contemplating an affair with her sleazy American golf instructor, Lance (Patrick Swayze). His teenage daughter, Holly (Tamsin Egerton), is decidedly oversexed, with boyfriends who seem to change more frequently than her wardrobe. His son Petey (Toby Parkes) is being bullied by the older boys at school. And Walter himself seems preoccupied with his dwindling congregation and a general fuzziness of thought.

Perhaps Grace Hawkins (Maggie Smith), the newly hired housekeeper, can help clean up the household. At the very least, her presence means that Petey won't have to leave the schoolyard unaccompanied. But then small miracles occur. Holly discovers cooking. The barking dog that prevented Gloria from ever getting any sleep disappears (as, after a while, does his owner). The bullies who picked on Petey take a fantastic tumble as they go biking down a hill (coincidentally, all of their brakes cease to work at the same moment) and Petey gets a chance to laugh at them for once. Relations even begin to improve between Walter and Gloria. Life is so good that the Goodfellows don't even suspect, at least not right away, that their happiness might have a dark side.

Don't worry, not The Departed dark. This is a British comedy after all. The movie gives away at the outset that Gracie, whose real name is Rosemary, does not respond well to people of whom she disapproves. Her cheating husband wound up dismembered along with his mistress and stuffed in a trunk. When bothersome people in the Goodfellows' lives start to vanish, we suspect it's not because they've gone on holiday.

Keeping Mum is chuckle-worthy at some points and overly cutesy at others. Smith clearly relishes her role and she plays up the dramatic irony of her scenes by turning the lightest "oh?" and "shall I fix a kettle?" into divertingly ominous statements. Hardly the best work anybody here has ever done, Keeping Mum is nonetheless a cheery good time. B

Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity (not to mention a lusty reading of one of the more porny passages in the Bible). Directed by Niall Johnson and written by Richard Russo and Niall Johnson, Keeping Mum is an hour and 43 minutes long and distributed by ThinkFilm. The movie will end a run at Wilton Town Hall Theatre on Thursday.

Amy Diaz