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Friday, September 29, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Keeping Mum": This is dark humor, all right — in shades of Earl Grey

Seattle Times movie critic

Rowan Atkinson, playing a vicar in the dark British comedy "Keeping Mum," has a funny, quizzical cluelessness; his character is always half a day behind everyone else, and you can see his mental gymnastics in trying to keep up. His well-named Walter Goodfellow does his best, with eyes perpetually darting behind his wire-rimmed glasses, but never quite seems at peace with his surroundings. Playing goalie in a soccer game, he jumps up and down in quiet enthusiasm — and hits his head on the goalpost.

Movie review3 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Keeping Mum," with Rowan Atkinson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Patrick Swayze, Tamsin Egerton, Toby Parkes. Directed by Niall Johnson, from a screenplay by Richard Russo and Johnson. 90 minutes. Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity. Seven Gables.

It's a charmer of a comedic performance (the way he pronounces the word "brassiere" is almost enough to justify the movie right there), and it's nicely nestled into the center of a fine acting trio. Kristin Scott Thomas, as Walter's above-it-all wife, Gloria, is delicious in her boredom, wallowing in bed instead of going to church, sighing heavily when parishioners try to enlist her aid. Even the affair she's having, with an oily American golf pro (Patrick Swayze, looking like he's been through the tanning booth a few too many times), doesn't seem to require much energy; her Gloria is seeking something she already knows she won't find.

And Maggie Smith, in gray Queen Elizabeth curls and sensible tweeds, plays Grace, the housekeeper who's arrived to set their untidy vicarage to rights. She seems just the right sort — always ironing and tidying and offering endless cups of tea — but Grace, it turns out, has a Dark Secret of her own, which Gloria must soon help her conceal.

"Keeping Mum" works more as an acting demonstration than a well-crafted movie; director Niall Johnson gives it an uneven pace, and the screenplay (by Johnson and American novelist/screenwriter Richard Russo) at times feels an uncomfortable mix between ultra-dark comedy and sentiment. But those fond of films set in quaint, remote British towns (this one's named Little Wallup), or really any film in which the divine Smith purses her lips, will find much to enjoy here. As Grace and Gloria return from a grisly task on a dark night, Grace asks brightly, "Shall I put the kettle on?"

Nefarious deeds, it seems, go down better with a cup of tea.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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