The Goodfellow's are Deadly Funny
There is a very simple way to describe "Keeping Mum", it takes the dark comedy of an Ealing Classic and then gives it a smattering of "Carry On" innuendo to create a darkly funny comedy which for the most works. From the "Midsomer Murders" style setting through to the cliche characters and the clever writing it all comes together to deliver a wickedly funny British comedy. But here is the thing, whilst "Keeping Mum" may feature some top notch performances especially from Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas, it is so steeped in classic British cinema that the chances are that the setting, the style, the nod to classic Ealing comedies and "Carry On" movies could be lost on anyone who has never seen the likes of "The Ladykillers". And it's a shame as for me "Keeping Mum" is one of the better movies from recent years to try and capture all that was once great about British cinema.
Walter Goodfellow (Rowan Atkinson - Love Actually) loves his job as vicar of Little Wallop but his workaholic behaviour means that he doesn't notice that his family are having problems. His wife Gloria (Kristin Scott Thomas - The Horse Whisperer) is frustrated in many ways by the lack of attention she gets causing her to seek solace in the arms of American Golf Pro Lance (Patrick Swayze - Icon). Walter's daughter is not so frustrated as she is blatantly having sex with a variety of men and his son Petey is struggling with being bullied at school. But with the arrival of new housekeeper Grace Hawkins (Maggie Smith - Ladies in Lavender) all these problems seem to miraculously disappear.
"Keeping Mum" starts some 43 years before the present day as we witness a pregnant Rosie Jones being sentenced for murder having been caught travelling on a train with her trunk filled with dismembered bodies. It is such an amusing opening because Emilia Fox who plays Rosie delivers everything in such a dead pan manner that when she gets put in a cell and politely enquires about having a cup of tea it brings a great big smile to your face. And this opening sets the benchmark high when it comes to delivering the dark comedy but what is great is that the rest of the movie is just as good.
With the opening out of the way we are taken to the present and the small village of Little Wallop where the local vicar is so wrapped up in his work he can't see that his family is bordering on the dysfunctional. We quickly learn that his daughter is enjoying sexual relations with various young men, flagrantly exhibiting her sexual freedom to the point of having sex in a camper van in front of the vicarage. And it goes on because his son is being bullied and his wife is so frustrated at being ignored by her husband that she ends up hooking up with a cheesy American golf pro. And whilst all of this has a touch of the weird and quirky about it, it also has a touch of the "Carry On" going on as well especially when Lance the golf pro gives Gloria a sexual innuendo filled lesson on the golf course.
With the set up completely out of the way we are then introduced to Grace the new housekeeper at the vicarage whose arrival marks a change in events. Basically the problems which have been plaguing the Goodfellow household disappear, be it a barking dog or young Petey's bullying issues. What follows is classic Ealing comedy as Grace secretly deals with the problems afflicting the household often resulting in her murdering someone. And whilst it is very obvious who Grace is, especially with her almost pleasant jobs worth way of dealing with dead bodies we are left wondering why she has decided to help the Goodfellow's out. Of course the reason is revealed in a minor twist which in fact is the only criticism I have of "Keeping Mum" because the twist is so underplayed that it feels like a wasted opportunity for more dark hilarity.
All of this makes "Keeping Mum" not only a well written movie with a flowing storyline but also one which is darkly funny. It is absolutely littered with memorable scenes, especially those which revolve around Grace dealing with dead bodies and also those which revel in "Carry On" like sexual innuendo with Patrick Swayze giving the movie one of the movie's in you face funnier scenes as he strips down to his underwear. But I get a feeling that with the humour being so British, drawn from classic British cinema that it could be lost on anyone who hasn't seen a few Ealing comedies or "Carry On" movies. And it is a shame as it is one of the best British movies from recent years to try and recapture the dark comedy and magic of those classic comedies of the past.
Whilst the writing in "Keeping Mum" is brilliant it is aided by some wonderful performances most notably those of Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas. Maggie Smith as Grace Hawkins is so perfectly cast delivering the pleasantness of an elderly English woman, the little old lady, yet the dead pan delivery as she goes about her murders and disposing of the bodies is just wickedly funny. And Kristin Scott Thomas is just brilliant as Gloria because she gets the sexual repression and frustration across brilliantly especially when we first meet her, firing off a string of expletives which you would never imagine coming from a vicar's wife. The rest of the cast are just as good with Rowan Atkinson restraining his usual style of comedy to be simply amusing whilst Patrick Swayze may be playing a cliche in cheesy golf pro Lance but his over the top womanizing and sexual innuendo filled dialogue is pure comedy.
What this all boils down to is that "Keeping Mum" is a wickedly funny British comedy which manages to recapture the dark comedy of classic Ealing comedies interlacing it with the sexual innuendo you would expect from a "Carry on" movie. As such it just grabs your attention and keeps you watching as Grace secretly goes about her murderous ways, oblivious to the fact that she is doing anything wrong. And thanks to brilliant performances from all the cast in particular those of Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas it doesn't end up descending into some set piece stupid farce.