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KEEPING MUM (article first published : 2006-04-25)

Its the early 60s and a well-spoken, pretty, British blonde boards a train with a leather-bound, brown trunk - a large piece of luggage that gets her sentenced to jail when it leaks blood and she nonchalantly admits to having stuffed it with chopped up bits of her husband and his mistress.

Fast-forward to the present and director Niall Johnson's quirky, dark comedy focuses on an amiable but decidedly awkward, somewhat forgetful vicar, Walter Goodfellow (Rowan Atkinson), in the picturesque, rural village of Little Wallop, population 57.

The bumbling, although not quite Mr Bean-like, Walter has a caring but bored and sexually frustrated wife, Gloria (Kristen Scott Thomas), an attractive woman who battles to sleep at night due to a neighbour's constantly barking dog. Walter also has a nymphomaniac teen daughter (Tamsin Egerton), a younger son (Toby Parkes) who is bullied at school and a nagging, nosey-parker old neighbour (Liz Smith) who is always in his face.

Then there's Gloria's American golf coach, the flirtatious, tanned and gleaming-toothed Lance (Patrick Swayze), a rather creepy playboy who edges Gloria towards an affair - and also has his eyes on her 17-year-old daughter, Holly.

Into these people's lives steps an elderly housekeeper, Grace Hawkins (Maggie Smith), who - you guessed it - happens to be that murderess from the 60s. Grace has a number of surprises up her sleeve and strives to do everything she can to ensure she keeps her new family healthy and happy. And she means "anything".

Keeping Mum's superb cast lifts what is essentially a rather ordinary little comedy to a new level of enjoyment.

Director Johnson, who directed the thriller White Noise milks a particularly fine performance from Kristin Scott Thomas who brings a lot of warmth, sensitivity and humour to her role.

At the same time, Johnson manages to keep the scene-stealing Maggie Smith and Rowan Atkinson under tight enough rein to ensure their characters aren't propelled towards wild caricature.

The result is a charming, if increasingly silly, little film, with a fun script dotted with colourful characters and sprinkled with some amusing nudge-wink double entendres. A good matinee bet. Billy Suter




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