I can’t say I’d ever heard of Keeping Mum (2005) before I saw it listed in the TV guide last week, but a quick IMDb search revealed that it was Tamsin Egerton’s first feature film, so I felt obligated to check it out.
For those who don’t know, Mum is a black comedy set in a sleepy English village, where the neglected wife of the local vicar hires a new housekeeper, little suspecting that the kindly old woman is in fact a criminally insane killer, recently released from prison, who will do anything to ensure that her employers have a happy, peaceful life… even if it means whacking half their neighbours over the head with a shovel! In some ways it’s a more sedate and low-key take on John Water’s Serial Mom… and apparently it proved a little too sedate for some critics, only managing to attract a 53% approval rating at MetaCritic. It’s the sort of film where a subplot about a vicar preparing his opening sermon for a conference on “The Mysterious Ways of God” is treated with utmost reverence, and his success is presented as a genuine heart-warming triumph… which I thought was quite sweet, even if it was meant to play as an ironic counterpoint to all the murder and mayhem going on back in his parish. The tone can seem a tad inconsistent at times, with some quite cartoonish characters and jokes clashing with the more naturalistic and tender scenes… and I can’t really recall many big laughs… but overall I thought it was quite a pleasant time-passer.
Although Rowan Atkinson does some fine work as the aforementioned man-of-the-cloth, I’d say the undisputed star of the film is Kristin Scott Thomas, who plays his wife, ‘Gloria Goodfellow’. She seems like quite an unsympathetic character when she first appears on-screen, but that’s mostly because her neighbour has a noisy dog who yaps all night, so she hasn’t been getting enough sleep. As we get to know her a little more, it becomes clear that Gloria is basically a good person, who is genuinely trying to make her marriage work, but is nevertheless driven to the brink of an affair by her inattentive and ineffectual husband. I thought Scott Thomas gave quite a captivating performance here, full of life, humour and yearning… which makes me feel a little guilty for overlooking her in films like Easy Virtue and The Other Boleyn Girl. Tch. As an aspiring Francophile, I was intrigued to read that she’s lived in France since she was nineteen, raised three children in Paris, and once claimed that she considers herself more French than British! D’accord. Egerton plays her daughter ‘Holly’… who is, quite frankly, a bit of a trollop. She doesn’t get many actual jokes, but there are still a few flashes of her nascent comic skills here and there. The homicidal housekeeper, ‘Grace Hawkins’, is played by Maggie Smith, who gives a nicely understated performance… cheerfully dispatching anyone who gets in her way, like the Miss Marple’s evil twin! Oh, and Liz Smith (no relation) appears as ‘Mrs. Parker’, an annoyingly needy parishioner who insists on hogging all of the vicar’s time with tedious complaints.