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Keeping Mum (2005)

CRUMBLIES… 4 crumblies

One of the joys of old age is fixing the lives of the middle-aged. My boy’s wife, let’s go with ‘Mrs Steve’ (I’m of the past, plus you haven’t read the rest of the sentence so fuck off), came to me with a set of cutting asides about Steve that boiled down to his attentiveness and inventiveness when having a go at attentiveness. I’d kept up the conversation as Nurse Stabby-Fingers helped me off the commode and…okay, there was wiping, drying and the snap of rubber gloves hitting the bin. To be frank, Mrs Steve probably didn’t want to be in the room and revealed her marital woes to block out my groaning, but I felt we bonded.

Anyway, freshly empty, her old father-in-law here gave a series of suggestions as to how to get the marital juices flowing again, then asked young Steve to come in so I could tell him as well. This close to the end of life, you see, social proprieties don’t matter. Save that marriage, my darlings, before the exhaustion and encrustation of middle-age tempts you to a regrettable and lonely end. And if sucking the guacamole from opposing ends of an avocado doesn’t work, try a film.

I sat them down and made them watch Keeping Mum, a gently comic, really rather smart story of a vicar’s wife (Kristin Scott Thomas as Gloria) on the cusp of banging her golf teacher (Patrick Swayze – really) and damning her marriage to a good, if matured-to-insipid man (Rowan Atkinson as Walter). And she has a ton of other pressures: living in a tiny village where a barking dog stops her sleeping, a sexless marriage, contrasted with an over-sexed, mother-resenting daughter (Tamsin Egerton) doing a survey of young men, and…though it takes her an hour longer than the audience to work it out…Maggie Smith as closely related new housekeeper cum Nanny McMurdererer, Grace.

Oh yes.

Nine years before the strains of My Old Lady (2014), Kristin Scott Thomas leads this sweet comedy through Richard-Curtis-World with every scene gently nabbed by Maggie Smith. The film starts with Emilia Fox as young Rosie Jones, a gently nutso killer caught on a train. Decades roll by and up pops Smith as Grace Hawkins, soon displaying the same bloody crazy. The barking dog yelps its last, bullies of Gloria’s son Petey (Toby Parkes) meet an ugly moment on the road, and Smith swivels her judgements towards Gloria’s love life…

The film is peopled with quality talent. Kristin Scott Thomas, as you’d expect, gives off comedy tension like a pro. Atkinson takes his lifetime of vicars into kindly bemusement and tentative growth (with a reading of the Bible you may never forget…). Smith takes a light comedy into some archly dark places, improving everyone she meets by horrifying means. Even Swayze is something of a surprise: subverting his film ego and standing bravely in the face of this much British quality. And the jokes are good.

I’ll stop there. Steve and Mrs Steve laughed nervously through Keeping Mum, but they took Grace’s actions to heart and left the home hand in hand. And that was the first time in a while.

The film lands its points without bludgeoning the audience. Quality cast, effective script, perhaps a smidge too gentle on the comedy given where else the cast have worked (Curtis isn’t directing). But it works, gives good laughter, and maintains its cold stare to the credits. In the end, it is Kristin Scott Thomas’s film. The final moments are…difficult to believe, but she takes us there with the shimmering rage of the put-upon.

Give it a go. It may save your kids’ marriages…

And never to trust an old woman with a locked trunk…

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