Keeping Mum; Yasmin

 Keeping Mum (UK, 2005, d. Niall Johnson)

It is probably true that some British housekeepers are battleaxes. But most of them don't wield an axe, especially on unsuspecting neighbours. But, Maggie Smith, as the sweetly-smiling Grace Hawkins, has some secrets like this, and she needs to keep mum.

If you have ever seen that old classic, Arsenic and Old Lace, the one where two nice old ladies send lonely old men off to their eternal reward (or, at least, bury them in the cellar), then you will know what to expect. This is genteel black comedy.

We know from the opening of Keeping Mum that, under the sensible hat, inside the old-fashioned clothes, Maggie Smith's Grace is a psychopathic killer. When challenged by the family she keeps house for that people just don't go round killing people they don't approve of, she cheerfully remembers that was the one thing she and her doctors disagreed on.

The family consists of the local vicar of Little Wallop (down Truro way), his dissatisfied wife, his emerging nymphomaniac 17 year old daughter and a son who is continually bullied at school. It is to the credit of Rowan Atkinson's quite laid back performance as the vicar, that he brings a little pathos to the film. However, he does get the chance to perform some 'Beanery' comedy, especially a disastrous spell at goalkeeping during the local football match.

And Kristin Scott Thomas brings more than a spot of good acting to the frustrated wife. We know that she is a clerical desperate housewife when she becomes infatuated with her bronzed American golf coach, Patrick Swayze sending up his image. Or, at least, creating the impression that he is murderable when Grace unmasks him as a lying rotter.

It's not as witty as all that. The comedy is often obvious. But, on the other hand, an impressive cast make it a smilingly light night out.

Yasmin (UK, 2004, d. Kenny Glenaan)

Winner of the Ecumenical Award in Locarno, 2004, and then winner of the Templeton award for best European film, Yasmin is a timely picture of inter-racial life in Yorkshire.

Yasmin herself, played with vivacious charm by Archie Panjabi, lives in two worlds. She works at a social services organisation and blends with the accepted British ways. She then changes back into her Muslim dress as she goes back home to her Pakistani background. Her father is a devout man but an embodiment of patriarchal traditions. Her brother is a local drug-dealer just waiting to be recruited by militant organisations. Her husband, part of an arranged marriage, is inept.

The film shows this double life taking its toll on Yasmin. Ordinary relationships, celebrating and going out, less constrained dress and make-up are part of the world she goes out to. At home, she is covered, dutiful, modest ­ and angry. The film makes its point about double standards for men compared with the restrictions on women.

Then comes September 11th, 2001, with devastating consequences in terms of suspicions and bigotry against any ethnic group that might be thought of as potential terrorists. When her family is victim of a brutish police raid and she spends time in a cell, though there is no reason for it, it leads to a re-thinking of where she stands as a woman, as being of Pakistani origin, as a Muslim.

In the light of the London bombings of July 2005 and along with films like Love + Hate and Red Mercury which deal with all these issues, Yasmin should be seen and talked about, especially in Britain.
LONDON - 10 January 2006 - 600 words

Share this story