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Keeping Mum

The latest in a long line of ''quirky little English village'' comedies is charming enough, but Keeping Mum doesn't break any new ground.


In 1960s England, a young, pregnant woman is arrested and sent to a facility for the criminally insane for casually butchering her philandering husband and his mistress. Flash forward 43 years to the tiny hamlet of Little Wollop, where fed-up vicar's wife, Gloria Goodfellow (Kristin Scott Thomas), is ready to ditch her earnest, hands-off husband, Walter (Rowan Atkinson), in favor of buff American golf pro Lance (Patrick Swayze). That is, until the advent of new housekeeper Grace Hawkins (Maggie Smith). Like a gray-haired Mary Poppins, Grace quickly sets about putting Gloria's life to rights, from helping timid son Petey (Toby Parkes) get over his fear of bullies to encouraging Walter to spice up his sermons. The fact that Grace's methods are rather, er, unorthodox is hardly surprising, and neither is the film's ultimate resolution--although getting there is amusing enough.


Most of Keeping Mum's success can be attributed to its two female stars. Scott Thomas and Smith are both consummate professionals, tackling their somewhat standard-issue roles with game enthusiasm. Smith (aka Professor Minerva McGonagall from the Harry Potter movies) plays Grace with a determined twinkle that could simply be a prim elderly woman's possessive affection for her adopted clan--or, just as easily, the glint of a madwoman on a mission. And Scott Thomas, as always, does English upper-middle-class to a tee. Neither Atkinson nor Swayze really tackle any new ground, character-wise: Swayze's whole performance seems to build up to the point where he gets to take off his shirt, and Atkinson's Walter goes so far as to blunder into a Four Weddings and a Funeral-esque malapropism at one point. But the men aren't the main attraction here.


With Keeping Mum, writer/director Niall Johnson follows in the footsteps of several other calculatedly eccentric comedies about quirky English folks, from The Full Monty and Calendar Girls to Waking Ned Devine and Saving Grace. Like its predecessors, the film is often charming, but, unlike many of them, it unfortunately never really hits its comedic stride. Much of the humor is more likely to elicit mild chuckles than belly laughs, mostly because very little of what happens is surprising. For a black comedy, Keeping Mum is neither particularly dark nor particularly funny--it's diverting enough while you're watching, but in the end it's about as memorable as another misty day on the English moors.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 1/2 stars.