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Keeping Mum

Keeping Mum opens with Rosie (Emilia Fox), a lovely and pregnant young woman, traveling on a train and dreaming about a beautiful country home. But at the station shes arrested for having the bodies of her husband and his lover stashed in her trunk. Jump to 43 years later. Rosie has just been released from prison and shes rechristened herself Grace (now played by Maggie Smith). She arrives as the new housekeeper at the home of a Reverend Walter Goodfellow (Rowan Atkinson of

Mr. Bean and

Black Adder fame) and his family to find everything pretty much in turmoil. The Reverend can barely keep his tiny congregation awake during his sermons; his wife Gloria (Kristen Scott Thomas) is leaning toward an affair with her American golf instructor; his daughter (Tamsin Egerton) is sleeping around the town and flaunting her promiscuity; and his young son (Toby Parkes) is accosted by bullies every day at school.

So Grace sets about fixing things bit by bit. She stages an accident to humiliate the school bullies. She introduces the minister to humor, which suddenly brings his sermons and an upcoming speech to life. Then she tries to ease the tension in Glorias life so that she and Walter can fall back in love. Oh, and along the way she disposes of some local folks who might make trouble for this family that she has taken such a shining too. But Gloria starts to grow suspicious of her new housekeeper when she sees a news report about Rosies old murders. When Gloria starts to ask some questions, she uncovers some unexpected answers.

Keeping Mum is a comedy that strives for the kind of quaintly perverse comedy of the old Ealing films (like The Lady Killers and Kind Hearts and Coronets ). But in the hands of Niall Johnson Keeping Mum is more sitcom than Ealing, more quaint than comic. The premise and the gags are all mildly pleasing and more likely to make you smile than chuckle. The old Ealing films has a unique comic flavor thats hard to duplicate, and actually requires subtle style and a supreme wit. Johnson unfortunately has neither.

One attraction in the film is Maggie Smith. Shes always a pleasure to watch and here she makes committing murder seem like the most natural thinglike putting the kettle on for afternoon tea. Rowan Atkinsonthe hysterically funny Mr. Beanseems wasted here as a kind of straight man to Smiths murderous Grace. But he does get to show a more restrained side of his talent. Patrick Swayzelike David Hasselhoffseems to have reinvigorated his career by playing a parody of himself, and Kristen Scott Thomas is enjoyable in a role thats lighter than her usual fare.

Keeping Mum (rated R for language and sexual content) is too obvious and self-satisfied in presenting the contrast between the quaint Britishness of its characters and setting, and the gruesomeness of the crimes. This is a quaint comedy where the twists and turns can easily be anticipated and there are no surprises .

Companion viewing: The Ladykillers (1955), Serial Mom, Eating Raoul