Review: Mum's the Word

Mum's the word if you like dark English humor. As housekeeper to the absent-minded, bungling vicar the Rev. Walter Goodman (Rowan Atkinson) and his wayward family in Little Wallop, England, Grace Hawkins (Maggie Smith) has her own special way of tidying up life's messes and bringing color to the chaos. Without giving anything away, let's just say she's blunt and direct when the situation requires. The effect is cathartic as well murderously funny. It's all about Keeping Mum (THINKFilm, 2006).

Grace has magic. She enters the family's life, identifies the problems, and sets about solving them for the good of the family. In addition to a meek-minded husband, there's Gloria the bored housewife (Kristen Scott Thomas), Holly the promiscuous teenage daughter (Tamsin Egerton), and Petey the bully magnet (Toby Parkes). Grace takes their measure and immediately sets things right in her own way. Her wisdom, insight, and problem-solving style are rare, let us say. They are born of her unique experience as the widow of an indiscreet husband, as a jailbird, and as a survivor on the lam.

She's Mary Poppins a la Arsenic and Old Lace. Her moral sense has been skewed by life itself, a life in which there's always moral wriggle room because there's a small but permanent vacancy in the top floor if her mind.

Like all nannies, Grace stays in the room at the top of the house and takes on a bizarre role as the head of this household. Mysteriously, she resolves the problem of incessantly barking dogs, busybodies, and lewd golf-instructor lovers (Lance, played by Patrick Swayze)--in the very same way. To Petey's problem with the bullies, she brings the heart of a saboteur to her basic understanding of bicycle mechanics and settles the problem with finality.

To the vicar's problem of being a bore--in the pulpit and in the bedroom--is one to which she applies a unique balm: The Song of Songs. That pastor loosens up in more ways than one, and his transformation breathes new life into the entire family.

Every family has secrets they don't tell. The secret of this saving Grace is one of them.

Like Mary Poppins, Grace moves on when the wind changes. Her work is done, and she's off. She has to be.

(Not for social workers or the politically correct.)