Movie Review, Keeping Mum, directed by Niall Johnson

By MILT GROSS | Jan 13, 2013

Last night was a great climax for a couple of what I call “English” days, starting with a historic novel I’m reading, adding an English woman I met on my little bus, and concluding with an English movie Keeping Mum, which we actually viewed all at once -- one sitting and a fair amount of potato chip, pretzels, and cheese to keep our wine company.

Generally, we’re so tired by 10 p.m. we pause movies and finish them another night. But last night’s was so suspenseful, humorous, murderous (containing that activity several times by “Mum”), and with a surprise ending that we stayed wide awake for the entire one-hour and forty-three minutes.

The fun begins with Mum, Grace Hawkins played by veteran actress Maggie Smith, many years earlier being convicted and jailed for manslaughter. The reason, a cheating man. That conviction had resulted from a train conductor’s noticing blood leaking out of a trunk in the baggage car.

Moral: don’t cheat on your spouse or loved one if Mum is anywhere around, which she turned out to be for most of the movie, and you’d like to remain alive.

Present-time killings occurred (at least one with a shovel), including of a dog that wouldn’t stop barking at night -- the vengeful side of me loves to see that kind of canine murder in a movie and in what used to be a real-life possibility in my imagination when we lived with that torture. (No real dogs were injured or killed in the movie or even in my imagination years ago.)

The victims of the current murders were “buried” in a back-yard pond.

Water experts, unaware of the pond “burials,” showed up at the end of the story and declared to the vicar and his wife that the pond was contaminated and, since water from it flowed into the town’s water supply, would have to be drained.

The movie offers classic suspense, a believable story line and humor -- black, of course.

“Along with normal family tensions, insanity, murder, adultery, and voyeurism are all treated with wit and dark humor (and without ever making the film very graphic, either sexually or violently).” writes a Netflix member-reviewer.*

In a surprise ending, the cheating wife of a too-busy-for-sex vicar named Rowan Atkinson at the Goodfellow vicarage became faithful once more to her husband and involved in the plot by having accidentally learned of the watery “burials.” The vicar had hired a housekeeper who turned out to be the one convicted of manslaughter many years earlier -- and also, coincidentally, the wife’s mother. The vicar too learned that the housekeeper and his wife’s mother had deposited the bodies of the killed in the pond.

The vicar’s story was a fascinating adventure from being a boring preacher to a great clergyman -- with help from the convicted-of-manslaughter mother-housekeeper.

At the end, the wife, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, faces her teenage daughter, who also knows about the pond-victim-disposal site and asks what will happen when the experts drain the pond to eliminate the pollution.

The vicar’s wife assures the daughter it will all work out -- they’ll find a way.

The surprise ending was one of those now out-of-date conclusions where the reader or viewer has to decide on what will finally happen -- the way they’ll find.

We decided that we loved it, then we went to bed. And this morning we talked about it some.

We obtained our copy of the 2005 R rated tale from Netflix as a DVD.

*One characteristic I enjoy in most English productions is their willingness to tackle all issues of the human condition, including open discussion and description of sex. American producers tend to protect viewers from actual sex, a silly tendency apparently based on some cultural respect for our English Puritan forefathers with their top hats and commonly-shown allegiance to their church. But history of the Puritans I have read and viewed describes them as quite sexual, for, after all, how could one expect to establish a colony capable of long-term survival and taking the Native Americans’ land as their own unless there were enough Puritans to make that possible.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at lesstraveledway@roadrunner.com.

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2013

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