‘Keeping Mum’ almost worth shouting about
October 13, 2006
The Goodfellow family’s charming old house in the tiny village of Little Wallop is in perfect order, the very picture of the idyllic English countryside. The lawns are emerald green, the hills are rolling, the walls are stone, the interiors are straight out of Laura Ashley.
It is the Goodfellows themselves, the occupants of this postcard setting and the focus of the dark comedy “Keeping Mum,” who are in utter disarray. Gloria Goodfellow (Kristin Scott Thomas) can’t get a good night’s sleep, nor can she get a good night’s sex with her distracted husband, which add up to a constant state of anxiety and her weakness for the flirtations from the local golf instructor, Lance (Patrick Swayze). Even if Gloria’s nocturnal existence were more satisfying, her kids might still be driving her to the edge. Seventeen-year-old Holly (Tamsin Egerton) is a budding beauty who attracts every boy in the county and seems on a mission to return every bit of that attention. Her younger brother, Petey (Toby Parkes), likewise attracts the attention of his male contemporaries, but it is a different kind of attraction. Timid Petey is the constant target of the school bullies.And the Rev. Walter Goodfellow (Rowan Atkinson) has managed to make his work as vicar of the small local church busy enough that he has the luxury of being distracted from the collapse of his family. Walter, already spacey, has ratcheted up his level of detachment thanks to the upcoming speech he is to give to a convention of priests.More than a housekeeper is needed to put this crew in order. And more than a housekeeper is what the Goodfellows get.
Grace Hawkins (Maggie Smith) is quiet, dowdy – and deadly determined to set the Goodfellows house right. Grace is also, unbeknownst to the family, a fraud, a woman with a dark past. In the film’s opening scene, set some 40 years before the Goodfellows are encountering their present difficulties, Grace – known then as Rosie Jones – engaged in a spot of violent nastiness with her philandering husband. She turned out to be better at committing crime than at covering it up; she was caught and imprisoned until she was no longer considered a threat to society.Either Rosie did a bang-up job of hiding her potential for mayhem, or someone in the English penal system screwed up badly. No sooner does Rosie/Grace show up in Little Wallop than the Goodfellows’ problems begin to vanish. First to go is the neighbor’s canine, and the absence of early-morning barking allows Gloria to get her first night of rest in ages. A good night’s sleep for mom sets the stage for all other problems – sexual, social, occupational – to be solved. For obvious reasons, Grace has a particular thing for keeping the world safe from infidelity. The methodology is of a sort that Mary Poppins never would have imagined.”Keeping Mum,” directed by Niall Johnson, does a fine job in the first act, of introducing the characters and setting up the plot, and maintains both its humor and insight when Grace actually starts getting her hands dirty. But the film loses steam as it winds its way toward predictable resolutions; even the big surprise twist in the plot fails to make its intended impact.Still, the cast, especially the enormously watchable Maggie Smith, is very good, and the humor is funny enough. The deeper issues get only scant attention; had Niall Johnson probed further, especially into Gloria and Walter’s marriage, “Keeping Mum” might be worth shouting about.
“Keeping Mum” shows Friday through Sunday, Oct. 20-22, at the Wheeler Opera House.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org