KEEPING MUM. Isle of Man Film – Azure Films – Tusk Productions / Entertainment Film Distributors, UK, 2005. Rowan Atkinson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Patrick Swayze, Tamsin Egerton, Toby Parkes, Liz Smith. Screenplay: Richard Russo & Niall Johnson, based on a story by the former. Director: Niall Johnson.

   A couple of months ago I saw a French film from 2000, With a Friend Like Harry, about a psycho who insinuates himself into a family. then “helps them” by killing anyone he perceives as their enemies. Imagine my surprise to find the same plot played for laughs — and played quite well — in Keeping Mum, which I recommend if you ever think back to those old Ealing comedies like Lady Killers and Kind Hearts and Coronets where murder was done with such quiet panache as to seen amusing and even tasteful.

   Mum centers around Kristine Scott-Thomas as the beleaguered wife of bemused country ,minister Rowen Atkinson, mother of a libidinous teenage daughter and a bullied son, and sex-object of sleazy lothario Patrick Swayze. Into her chaotic life housekeeper Maggie Smith descends like a lethal Mary Poppins with a perfectly simple philosophy for happiness: kill anyone who gets on your nerves.

   Writer-director Niall Johnson handles this thing with the necessary light touch — he recycles the cell-phone gag from With a Friend Like Harry to highly amusing effect — and the players are competent and sometimes inspired. Scott-Thomas as the wide-eyed adulteress reminded me touchingly at times of Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter. Give this one a look if you enjoy the gentle irony of British Humour at its best.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson #51, May 2007.