The time is 1932. The place is a mansion in the English countryside. The rich, the famous and the ordinary interact over a weekend in the most curious ways. When murder occurs, the list of suspects is almost too grand for a country bumpkin cop, Inspector Thompson (Stephen Fry, V for Vendetta).
Reaction & Thoughts:
Agatha Christie meets TV’s Upstairs, Downstairs. Robert Altman’s stiff-upper-lip quasi-whodunit follows a potpourri of diverse characters as they interact over a few days. Like Altman’s 1975 classic, Nashville, the director creates a human mosaic of society, in this case, pre-WWII British society. Gosford Park captures with uncanny ability England’s socio-political structure of the early 1930s. The murder mystery is treated nonchalantly, an attitude that clearly signals to the audience that this isn’t your typical crime story; it’s really a metaphor for a nation at crossroads — WWII was about to make some changes to Britain’s class structure.
I have thought long and hard before deciding that this is above all a political movie. Politics is about power and social status. Gosford Park does a really great job at showing not only the power struggle between classes, but also between genders and romantic liaisons.
The first half neatly establishes the relationships. By the second half of the film, the audience is fully invested into all the characters and their problems. There is a good chance that you will find someone to identify with in this complex menagerie. It is, of course, easier to root for some characters than others.
I was totally hypnotized by the way Altman follows God-only-knows how many characters and make each and everyone of them count. Rarely have I seen a better ensemble cast and kudos to writer Julian Fellowes (he won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Original Screenplay), who miraculously embodies all his characters, down to the tiny ones, with vitality and real human emotions.
I particularly loved the inclusion of a real person, matinée idol Ivor Novello and the star of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger and Downhill, into the mix. It’s just a really cool touch. Novello is played by Jeremy Northam (Emma and Amistad).
In Altman’s fashion, people talk and talk, often over each other, which will require even the sharpest viewer to pay close attention. Bless those lovely subtitles because they helped me keep track of everything that was going on. I still think I missed something, a great excuse to revisit this truly great movie. Beautifully shot by Andrew Dunn (Precious and The Butler).
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Gosford Park is funny, smart and stimulating and heartbreaking. The amazing all-star cast includes Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient) as Lady Sylvia McCordle, Clive Owen (Inside Man) as Robert Parks, Maggie Smith (A Room with a View) as Lady Trentham, Helen Mirren (Excalibur) as Mrs. Wilson, Emily Watson (War Horse) as Elsie, Michael Gambon (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover) as Sir William McCordle, Ryan Phillippe (Cruel Intentions) as Henry Denton, Bob Balaban (Altered States) as Morris Weissman, Alan Bates (Women in Love) as Jennings, Derek Jacobi (Gladiator) as Probert, and many many many others. Color, 131 minutes, Rated R.