* Spoilers * Many, Many Spoilers *
In ‘Keeping Mum’, forty-some years ago we find Emilia Fox as a young Maggie Smith, travelling by train with a large trunk, which appears to be bleeding from one corner.
I have a trunk exactly like that, less haemoglobin, and painted blue, otherwise it’s almost the same.
It transpires that Rosie, as we know her, has cut up her husband and his mistress because she couldn’t just sit by and let their affair continue.
Time passes, as it has a tendency to do so, and we find the action has moved to the tiny parish of Little Wallop, where the local vicar (Rowan Atkinson) is shaking hands with his congregation after the Sunday service. The head of the flower arranging committee (Liz Smith) is there for local flavour but she symbolises the country parish and its attendant stresses.
Walter Goodfellow, the vicar, is married but has basically ignored his wife, Gloria (Kristin Scott Thomas), and her romantic and libidinous needs for quite some time. He’s always too busy, he has a speech to write, and his wife is frustrated. Regularly chatted up by the dashing American golf pro (Patrick Swayze) at her Club, she can’t help but notice how he looks at her. He does rather put it on a plate.
Their daughter, although not technically a nymphomaniac, is enjoying her youth with a selection of, what might be considered inappropriate, boyfriends, and their young son is being bullied by a group of local ten-year-old thugs.
In short, everything might appear calm on the surface, but they’re falling apart.
Enter Maggie Smith.
Grace, the new housekeeper, has a kindly face and a murderous past.
It doesn’t take long for this film to have everything I’m looking for in a story: sex, murder, and Maggie Smith.
And now, here’s the bit that gets me.
When Gloria begins – not really an affair, it’s more kissing in a car, with her golf pro, Lance, she thinks they’ve been spotted by the lady from the flower committee. She leaps out of the car, hands Lance a tenner and tells him to pretend he’s a taxi driver. Now, that’s not bad as a little bit of business, for an idea from the top of her head, it’s pretty believable. That’s not the issue. He takes the tenner. What a cad.
Like all housekeepers, Grace sees more than she says. The barky little Jack Russell across the road, although apparently an outdoor dog, spends a great deal of his time experimenting with his voice and refusing to let the vicar’s wife get a good night’s sleep. And then, he disappears. He’s a fictional dog, so we don’t have to spend too much time on that.
The fact that Lance the golf pro comes along to a community football match at which the vicar is goalkeeper and his family are embarrassed by his lack of ball skills at the sidelines is uncomfortable at best. He makes no secret of the fact he has come to check out the competition. He’s too chummy by a long way. He makes Walter wonder about his wife. And yes, arguably he should, but Lance lays it on with a shovel. I suspect he’d be exactly the same way if nothing whatever had happened between them.
When Lance calls, a day or two later, and attempts a little dirty talk before realising he’s got Grace on the phone, I delight in the look on Maggie Smith’s face.
In all honesty, I’m quite pleased that Grace kills him off. That’s what she does, you see. She gets rid of people who get in the way. You’ve got to love a woman with a shovel.
Also, the sight of Patrick Swayze in a very shiny posing pouch is something that may change your life. Not mine, as I’m already on the team. They do say there’s nothing so attractive as a sense of humour. To wear the silly pants is proof positive – he was funny as well.
Of course, we could read this film as Grace as saint: she comes to a near-broken family and teaches them to communicate more effectively. And she does. She helps Petey with his bullies – by cutting the brake lines on their bikes. She teaches Holly to bake, thus distracting her from boys.
She reminds Walter that his wife is a woman, with the needs of a woman. And she creates a space where Lance used to be using her shovel. She ensures that no kind feeling remains for him when she shows the women of the Goodfellow family the tape Lance made outside Holly’s bedroom window. And when the twists and turns of a village murder spree are about to be unearthed with the draining of the pond, the family comes up trumps for her.
It’s a cracker. One of the last Patrick Swayze movies and he’s so good in it.
Some sterling performances and a great script. The only way we can tell it was written by an American is in the description of Little Wallop, there’s a population number.