Keeping Mum (2005)

keeping mum

“You can’t just go ’round killing people just because you don’t approve of them!”

The Scoop: 2005 R, directed by Niall Johnson and starring Rowan Atkinson, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Patrick Swayze

Tagline: Some family secrets are best kept… buried.

Summary Capsule: Housekeeper cleans, cooks, counsels and bludgeons.

Sue’s rating: Just a spoonful of sugar helps the blunt force trauma go down in the most delightful way.

Sue’s review: Remember Mary Poppins? Y’know, the ultra-pragmatic chick with the umbrella, stellar singing voice and talent for applying the grease of love and understanding to the squeaky wheel of strained family dynamics? To Miss Poppins, nothing resolved troubles faster than a dose of chimney sweep choreography, unspindled merry-go-round horses, kite flying, and Dick Van Dyke. Those were the days.

Now meet Grace Hawkins, the new housekeeper for the meek and slightly absentminded Reverend Goodfellow (Rowan Atkinson) and his handsome but dysfunctional family. Grace is elderly, sweet natured, wears a nice hat, has a steamer trunk large enough to swallow an airliner, and harbors a single-minded determination to resolve “her” family’s problems in whatever way necessary. Case in point. Neighbor’s dog barks all night and keeps the lady of the house awake. Neighbor’s dog mysteriously disappears — presumably for an eternal dirt nap. Problem solved! Bullies bothering the household’s young son? Well just think of your favorite word and watch those meanies crash off of their bikes on a steep rocky slope because their brake lines have magically been cut! Amazing! In fact, it’s more than amazing! It’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

In other words, if you’re nice and cause no trouble, Grace will be the first one to offer you a cup of tea, possibly a hot buttered scone and maybe a few words of maternal wisdom and sage advice. If, on the other hand, you disrupt her little sphere of enforced domestic serenity… well, you’d have been better off if you’d stomped on Don Corleone’s bunions, capische?

Keeping Mum offers up an interesting little moral dilemma as far as I’m concerned. Should I be horrified by heinous crimes committed without hesitation, pity or remorse? Sure. Of course I am! On the other hand, is there a part of me — a tiny niblet within the ol’ gray matter — that secretly wishes I had someone like Grace running interference for me and my offspring, no matter what the consequences to those that “done us wrong”? Uhm… gee… heh. Oh look, is that a bluebird?

In different hands, I’d venture a guess that Keeping Mum would not have worked for me. I’m not really a huge fan of black comedy and outside of all things Monty Python, British humor (sorry, humour) tends to be a little hit or miss with me. I’ve liked Rowan Atkinson since his Blackadder days, but in what is essentially a more dramatic role, there’s something about him that doesn’t quite fit. (Possibly because I have liked him since his Blackadder days.) I also had trouble buying into Patrick Swayze as a lecherous and libidinous neighborhood golf pro. It’s not that he can’t play sleazy — he did it terrifically in Donnie Darko. I just couldn’t understand why he was plunked down in the middle of a quaint English countryside setting. I’d have cast it differently, but hey, no one asked me.

On the other hand, the Goodfellow kids (Tamsin Egerton and Toby Parkes) are perfect in their roles. Young Petey does everything possible to evade his schoolyard tormenters with very limited success. Teenaged Holly is in a state of full-blown shag-centric rebellion with a virtual thundering herd of increasingly disreputable looking young men which she obstinately parades in front of her despairing mother and completely oblivious father. Kristin Scott Thomas is brilliant as a frustrated and stressed out preacher’s wife contemplating an affair because her husband is so focused on the spiritual that he’s forgotten to indulge in, well, in what comes natural.

And then there’s Maggie Smith.

Maggie Smith owns this movie. There’s no other way to say it. Thinking about it, in Sister Act and the Harry Potter series, she’s nailed the part of the morally upright, yet naturally intimidating authority figure. In Keeping Mum, she does exactly the opposite, nailing the part of the unapologetically psychopathic, yet arguably cuddly, household employee. Is that fun or what?

In any case, I didn’t watch Keeping Mum with any real expectation of enjoying it, but I did. I definitely did.

Just call me June. June Cleaver.
Just call me June. June Cleaver.


  • The family lives in “Little Wallop”.
  • “Broccoli” is a great magic word! Especially when combined with the judicious use of a pair of wire cutters.
  • Song of Solomon – the holy man’s viagra.
  • There is no force more terrifying on earth than the power struggles within a church’s flower arranging committee.
  • It’s always best to use waterproof luggage when transporting dismembered bodies.
  • Many more good reasons not to own a cell phone.

Groovy Quotes

Rosie (as she’s being locked in a cell in a mental institution for the criminally insane): Oh, I don’t suppose there’s any chance of a cup of tea is there?

Grace Hawkins: Oh, Mr. Brown’s on holiday. I think he said, ‘down under’.

Grace Hawkins: Oh, so you know about the other bodies!
Gloria Goodfellow: What other bodies?
Grace Hawkins: Oh. You didn’t know about the other bodies…
Gloria Goodfellow: WHAT other bodies?

Holly Goodfellow: Who the hell is this guy? I’ll kill him!
Grace Hawkins: Oh, that won’t be necessary, dear.

Gloria Goodfellow (horrified): Is Billy Martin really dead?
Grace Hawkins: No, just unconscious. But don’t tell Petey. He’s very excited.

Gloria Goodfellow: You can’t just go ’round killing people just because you don’t approve of them!
Grace Hawkins: You know, that’s what my doctors used to say. It was the one point we could never agree on.

Gloria: I’ve got two dead bodies! One in my pond and one in my sitting room!
Grace Hawkins: Three dead bodies.

Grace Hawkins: It’s all right! I didn’t chop him up.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Sister Act
  • Shallow Grave
  • Hot Fuzz
  • Serial Mom

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