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KEEPING MUM

SYNOPSIS:
In the village of Little Wallop (popn 57) the dour and dithering vicar, Walter Goodfellow (Rowan Atkinson) is suffering from a flatlined libido and a family on the edge ... his wife Gloria (Kristin Scott Thomas) feels neglected, frustrated, edgy and irritable, and is half heartedly dallying with her golf coach (Patrick Swazye). Meanwhile hormone-rich daughter Holly (Tamsin Egerton) is shagging every boy within reach and her younger brother Petey (Toby Parkes) is being bullied at school. Enter Grace (Maggie Smith) a sweet old housekeeper who seems to have a (final) solution for the problems - large and small - of this troubled family.

Review by Louise Keller:
It doesn't matter that there aren't many laughs in Keeping Mum, but it does matter that we are made to expect them. Comedy sets up certain expectations. Especially if Rowan Atkinson is cast as 'a bumbling vicar'. Keeping Mum is a wry black comedy that is anything but the broad comedy we have come to expect from Atkinson. It's as though the filmmakers are hedging their bets and lack the confidence in our ability to enjoy the film on its own terms. This is a character-based film set in a small community in the English countryside. The performances by Kristen Scott Thomas and Maggie Smith are wonderful.

There's an incessantly barking dog, an elderly neighbour having a crisis of faith and a vicar whose frustrated wife observes he may have found God but has lost his sense of humour. All his wife longs for is a good night's sleep and a husband with an active libido. Problems like her sex-obsessed teenage daughter and insecure young son just don't go away. Little does she expect Grace, the new housekeeper (a Mary Poppins of sorts) to solve all her problems......

The film is charming in many ways - from its atmospheric Cornwall setting to the ambiance created by its characters. It's mostly kept alive by Scott Thomas' very real Gloria, who finds life has turned like sour milk, and her lecherous golf instructor Lance (Swayze) seems to the splash of colour needed to brighten her palette. There's a lovely scene when Gloria and would-be lover Lance speak in double entendres about their impending romantic rendez-vous, while Grace listens with wide eyes.

We are instantly involved in the everyday family chaos: daughter Holly's (Tamsin Egerton) indiscretions and son Petey's (Tobey Parkes) inability to stand up for himself at school. Before the new housekeeper arrives, Walter suggests her name (Grace) is a sign from above. There are a few chuckles and I do like the no-nonsense way that Grace addresses all the family's problems - from the barking dog to Walter's humourless sermons.

Keeping Mum might have been an absolutely delight, but director Niall Johnson, who also co-wrote the script, fails to inject the energy it needs (and deserves). Enjoyable on some levels, we are left wanting.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The opening sequence is a flashback to 43 years previously, and it's a mysterious piece of the jigsaw that finally falls into place later in the film. This whets our appetite, but the film that follows fails to satisfy it.

Notwithstanding the great cast and terrific concept, Keeping Mum fails to satisfy, partly because it falls foul of the dreaded curse of 'comedy-intent'. This is a disease that afflicts comedy films from all over the world, including Hollywood and Australia. It's probably the fault of TV sitcoms where it doesn't matter because we give TV shows licence to fail and appeal to the lowest common denominator - simply out of habit.

Nothing quite gels: Little Wallop is a funny (and almost credible) name for an English village but it withers as a joke without a punchline. The village does have a church large enough for a town, though. Rowan Atkinson's character is thrown into a limbo that is neither familiar Mr Bean nor a complete departure. The humour is neither broad nor subtle. The characters are neither larger than life or life size. Indeed, life seems to have been squeezed out of the screenplay, notwithstanding a valiant effort by Kristin Scott Thomas to play it for real in a brave attempt to give us something to hold on to as the film sinks into a shallow pool (with dead bodies in it).

The flat tone is probably (mostly) the director's responsibility; there are a few laughs and certainly the blackest reading of the script is the funniest. Maggie Smith has the delicious task of delivering this, but it's too little too late. She is the ever smiling and willing corrector of the family's woes, not unlike Harry in the French film Harry He's Here To Help, which shows how it's really done.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 1

KEEPING MUM (M)
(UK, 2005)

CAST: Rowan Atkinson, Kristin-Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Patrick Swayze, Emilia Fox, Liz Smith, Tamsin Egerton, James Booth, Toby Parkes, Jack Ryan

PRODUCER: Julia Palau, Matthew Payne

DIRECTOR: Niall Johnson

SCRIPT: Niall Johnson (original by Richard Russo)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Gavin Finney

EDITOR: Jonathan Sales, Robin Sales

MUSIC: Dickon Hinchliffe

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Crispian Sallis

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 26, 2006

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

VIDEO RELEASE: May 3, 2006







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