Twee With a Twist of Lemon

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Keeping Mum

Directed by Niall Johnson

Don't be fooled by the marketing campaign: While Keeping Mum is a bit twee, it's much darker than the usual Brit comedy exports. Gloria Goodfellow (Kristin Scott Thomas) is saddled with a distant reverend husband (Rowan Atkinson), a bullied son and a gorgeous daughter who thinks nothing of screwing her boyfriend in his van outside her house. It's all too much for Gloria to take, so she's now seriously contemplating running off to Mexico with her golf instructor (a wonderfully smarmy Patrick Swayze). But her despair quickly begins to fade with the arrival of Grace (Maggie Smith), her new housekeeper. The neighbor's yippy dog disappears, her son becomes more confident after his bullies' bike brakes fail and her husband starts cracking jokes and paying attention to her.

It could all be very Mary Poppins if it weren't for Mum's black comedy prologue in which a woman's arrested on a train when her trunk begins leaking blood and she cheerfully confesses to dismembering her husband and his mistress. Since Grace arrives at the Goodfellow's home with a startlingly similar trunk, it doesn't take much to put two and two together.

Relishing a role that's as sweetly tart as they come, Smith has a ball as the sweetly sociopathic Grace, dispatching enemies and wisdomall with a warm smile and a firm hand. But it's Scott Thomas' Gloria, seduced by a handsome American and about to crack under the pressure of being the perfect wife and mother as her family falls apart, who shines as a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

As she looks around at her recently acquired good fortune, Gloria's not relieved so much as cautious. Nothing this perfect can possibly be all good and, while she relaxes a bit, her eyes dart about furtively, looking for the other shoe to drop. And when it does (in spectacularly funny fashion), Gloria (thankfully) doesn't transform into a saint. She simply takes it all in stride and puts a kettle on. Blessedly small in scope, Keeping Mum is the equivalent of a cozy evening, curled up by the fire with a cup of teaalbeit one with a healthy dose of whiskey.

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