Image from here
When I was young, there was a large multipurpose room in the basement of our church, where most of the larger scale, non-worship activities happened. With a kitchen at one end and a stage at the other, it was a good place for receptions (at least the tee-totalling kind), banquets, large meetings, and Halloween carnivals. It was also where the church thespians performed their annual play.
Being a church, the plays tended toward the mainstream. But it was a Methodist church during the Vietnam era, and they were not performing the religious dramas that are common these days. For instance, one of the first performances I remember was Arsenic and Old Lace. I think my father played one of the victims.
I love this play, and I'm sure it helped inspire my love of theater in general, and of the black comedy in particular. If you haven't seen it, there is a very good 1959 film adaptation starring Cary Grant. I find the innocence of the characters in the traditional black comedies makes for higher comedy than the moral ambiguity that became fashionable later (think Grosse Point Blank).
Which brings us to Keeping Mum. It's a wonderful little farcical black comedy in the traditional sense. And by little, I mean it is modest in what it attempts to accomplish, and partially because of its modesty, it accomplishes more. It's a delightful way to spend an hour and three-quarters, especially if you're in the mood for light, irreverent entertainment.
The cast is first-rate, mostly familiar but cast somewhat against type. Rowan Atkinson plays the vicar of the village of Little Wallop, and the foil for three generations of women, played by Maggie Smith, Kristen Scott Thomas, and Tamsin Egerton. I'm not really going to say much about the plot, because it unfolds so nicely in the film. Keeping Mum also features Patrick Swayze, playing the role of the archetypal sleazy golf pro almost as a self-parody. Of course, maybe that's the only way he knew how to act.*
Maybe these types of stories are not as edgy as perhaps they once were, given the number of stories -- both fiction and fact -- of people who kill without remorse or regard. But I still find the interplay of wide eyes and cold blood can tickle a spot that few other forms of comedic entertainment can reach. So if you like yours old-fashioned and well crafted, you may want to give Keeping Mum a go.
* Too soon? One of my old girlfriends was crazy about Swayze, and would not be amused.