A lukewarm cup of tea

Keeping Mum

on September 15, 2006 by Bridget Byrne
There's always some pleasure to be taken in watching Maggie Smith, especially in recent years when her more flamboyant mannerisms have been toned and softened, but there's not much for her to do here. We know where the character's coming from right from the start and are way ahead of the plot in knowing where she's going.

Smith, her timing impeccable as always even when the dialogue doesn't merit her craft, plays Grace Hawkins, aka Rosie Jones, a well-mannered violent murderer paroled after years in prison for offing her husband and his mistress, who gets a job as a housekeeper in a rural vicarage and sets about eliminating anything that does match her fantasy of a perfect life.

The non-perfect family whose attic room she occupies consists of the absent-minded clergyman, Walter Goodfellow, his beautiful emotionally and physically frustrated wife, and his lovely sex-crazed daughter and sweet shy son. Rowan Atkinson is endearing as Goodfellow, the standard inane and inept qualities of the Mr. Bean character that made him famous used only sparingly to spark a convincing portrait of the aptly named vicar. Kristin Scott Thomas as his spouse, who is tempted by passion to link up with a god-awful American golf pro (a suitably ghastly sleazy turn by Patrick Swayze), has a harder row to hoe in making her character viable, but there's enough there to make one wish that this film was just a little dramatic vignette about making an odd marriage work, rather than the bit of flat-footed nonsense it is.

This movie's not a murder mystery, because there's no mystery. It's barely a comedy, because it has too few funny moments. It's too coy to be a drama, too small in plot and personality to be a character study, and too fuzzy to be a satire, failing to conjure up the delicious, droll, dark humor of the old Ealing Studio movies it clearly wishes to emulate. The running gags--which include the constant stream of boyfriends brought to bed by the gorgeous daughter (Tamsin Egerton) and old nosey Mrs. Parker (veteran character actress Liz Smith, astute as always at playing daffy), constantly pestering the vicar about the church's flower-arranging committee feuds--run too long. The British countryside provides a pretty framework, unfortunately the picture inside doesn't fit the bill. Distributor: ThinkFilm
Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith and Patrick Swayze
Director: Niall Johnson
Screenwriters: Richard Russo and Niall Johnson
Producers: Julia Palau and Matthew Payne
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R for language and some sexual content/nudity
Running time: 90 min.
Release Date: September 27, 2006

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