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on February 23, 2004
Well, strictly speaking he doesn't of course - Robert Altman never simply tags onto an established genre; he plays with it and makes it his own by turning it upside down. So, while the idea for "Gosford Park" may have been inspired by murder mysteries "Christie style" and by the likes of "Brideshead Revisited" and the BBC series about the Bellamy's Eaton Square household, we leave familiar territory the moment we enter the estate ... through the servants' entrance; for although large parts of the action take place "upstairs," it is manifestly told from a "downstairs" perspective.
Academy Award-winningly scripted by Julian Fellowes (himself a descendant of British nobility and therefore able to draw on manifold personal insights in creating the movie's characters), "Gosford Park" is primarily an examination of the unquestioningly accepted rules of the early 1930s' British class society: where, beset by primogeniture and a lifestyle often beyond their means, an aristocrat's daughters and younger sons were compelled to marry rich to maintain their expected standard of living - making a marriage for love much less desirable than one for money, even to a disliked spouse, and a marriage for love almost akin to a crime if not combined with wealth -; where servants were a necessary element of the aristocracy's life, even if largely treated as non-persons, banished to the basement and not even allowed to speak if not spoken to when called upstairs by virtue of their duties (notwithstanding the almost friendly relationship often existing between members of the two classes outside the public eye); where the perfect servant's existence was a life so unrealized that it often resulted in an overbearing interest in all aspects of his employer's life and in a precise emulation of the latter's prejudices, standards and pecking orders; where nevertheless domestic service was an important finishing school, especially for girls, frequently employed as early as at 12 or 14 years of age; where both "upstairs" and "downstairs" the greatest transgression against social etiquette was the causation of any kind of scene, as *nothing* was to be talked about as if it were truly important - requiring an immediate return to form if a breach of decorum had occurred after all - and where minute behavioral patterns such as a person's habits in pouring milk for his tea unfailingly exposed him as a member of one particular class, try as he might to associate himself with another. Yet, for all its observations, "Gosford Park" never judges: it takes each of its characters, and the entire unspoken "upstairs-downstairs" class arrangement at face value, leaving it up to its viewers to determine themselves what to make thereof.
The movie is named for the estate of Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and wife Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas), who have invited friends and family to that most English of all country sports events - a shooting party. And they have all come: Lady Sylvia's aunt Constance Trentham (Maggie Smith), her sisters Louisa and Lavinia with husbands Lord Stockbridge and Commander Meredith (Geraldine Somerville, Natasha Wightman, Charles Dance and Tom Hollander), the Nesbitts (James Wilby and Claudie Blakley) and last but not least (real-life) actor Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam, who also displays his outstanding vocal talent with several of Novello's songs), along with Hollywood director Morris Wiseman (Bob Balaban), in England for research on a projected "Charlie Chan" movie, and young Henry Denton (Ryan Philippe), whom Wiseman presents as his valet. Yet, while Novello is the hosts' halfheartedly-tolerated relative, Wiseman and Denton are instantly identified as outsiders: Not only are they American, but Wiseman is Jewish (and thus, implicitly socially suspect), a vegetarian (making him even more suspect for "fussing" over his food) and swears on the telephone; and Denton is quickly branded disingenuous by the servants, particularly Lady Constance's young maid Mary (Kelly Macdonald) and Lord Stockbridge's valet Robert Parks (Clive Owen), only to incur even greater wrath both upstairs and downstairs when the full measure of his deception becomes apparent.
Despised by his wife and aristocratic in-laws and also, for reasons of their own, by his own staff, primarily housekeeper Jane Wilson and cook Elizabeth Croft (Helen Mirren and Eileen Atkins), Sir William is found murdered after the second night's dinner. Enter Inspector Thompson (Stephen Fry) - and the movie's delicious survey gains another dimension, now also taking on the mystery genre; playing with it in "Charlie Chan" and "Pink Panther" fashion, with inept policemen, matching background music and cliches turned on their head, such as the obligatory assembly of all suspects, which here occurs at the investigation's beginning, not at its end.
While "Gosford Park"'s many awards are undoubtedly deserved, most fitting of all is its outstanding cast's SAG ensemble award; as all actors, including the late, great Alan Bates (butler Jennings), Derek Jacobi (Sir William's valet Probert), Richard E. Grant (first footman George) and Emily Watson (housemaid Elsie, Sir William's secret paramour and the only person grieving his death) put aside their claims to genuine starring roles in the interest of the ensemble's achievement. In addition to Robert Altman's, his son/production designer Stephen's and Julian Fellowes's painstaking attention to even the smallest set detail - including a king's ransom in tapestry and authentic vintage jewelry - and the counsel of several advisors with real-life service experience, all actors thoroughly researched the tenets of their roles; enabling them to respond in supreme fashion to Altman's preferred style of directing, which favors spontaneity, "mistakes" (often actually a movie's greatest moments), constantly moving cameras with shifting focus and overlaying, partly ad-libbed conversations over strict adherence to the script. The movie is jam-packed with information, each morsel provided only once; therefore, you not only should but actually must watch it several times to pick up on all the details you will necessarily miss initially. This is not a film for casual viewers, nor for fans of primarily plot-driven stories - but it is strongly recommended to those who appreciate delicate social comment and exquisitely-drawn characters.
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on July 14, 2004
The upperclass friends and relations of Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) arrive at his country house for a weekend of shooting, accompanied by maids, footmen, and valets, all of whom will be staying under one roof. Sir William is a mean-spirited and self-centered old man, married to a much younger, emotionally distant wife (Kristin Scott Thomas), with many family members dependent upon his continuing largesse. The hilariously waspish Countess of Trentham (Maggie Smith), who believes she has a lifetime stipend, arrives with young Mary Maceachran (Kelly MacDonald), who is trying valiantly to become a good lady's maid. Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam), a Hollywood star, and Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban), a producer of Charlie Chan movies, are the only guests without aristocratic backgrounds and inherited privilege. The atmosphere of the house, filled with venomous "friends" and relations, soon becomes even more poisonous.
The "below stairs" lives of the servants are also fully revealed, as they share living quarters, eat meals together, tend to the laundry and cooking, and gossip about their employers. The butler Jennings (Alan Bates) and the head housekeeper (Helen Mirren) run the household and try to guarantee that no real-world cares will intrude upon the lives of their employers. Since "upstairs" and "downstairs" occasionally meet very privately at night, secrets abound, many of them secrets of long standing. When Sir William is poisoned and stabbed ("Trust Sir William to be murdered twice"), nearly everyone has a motive for wanting him dead.
For director Robert Altman, the primary focus of the film is on the characters, their way of life, and their values, with the murder mystery secondary. Set in late November, the end of the year 1932, the action takes place when this secure aristocratic lifestyle is also nearing its end, something that the arrival of the newly rich Hollywood characters, Novello and Weissman, illustrates. Dramatic cinematography (by Andrew Dunn) emphasizes the cold and rainy dreariness of the weekend, and suggests parallels with the coldness of the dying aristocracy.
Interior shots reveal the contrasts between the elegant and mannered lives of the "upstairs" characters and the hardworking daily lives of the "downstairs" characters, who adhere to their own rigid social codes. Every detail rings true, and as the characters' lives and interrelationships are revealed obliquely in brief snippets of seemingly unrelated conversations, a broad picture of the upstairs and downstairs lifestyles gradually emerges. Fully developed, many-leveled, wonderfully acted, often funny, and impeccably directed and filmed, this is a film one can watch again and again with delight. Mary Whipple
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on January 13, 2003
Reading the customer reviews, it's obvious people either love or hate this movie...and sometimes for personal reasons. One commented on the phoney British accents - odd, considering many of the actors hail from England. Another found the characters evil - I found them refreshing honest in their dishonesty.
I loved this movie which surprised me 'cause I am not a great fan of director Altman's MASH or Nashille.
You have to really pay attention to what's on the screen because each scene is like a painting...there's almost always more than one thing to focus on; often more than one character talking at the same time. I loved that. I could't believe the bitchiness, the selfishness -- and not like Hollywood's usual over-the-top portrayals. These are people you meet at large dinner parties (minus the accents).
Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren were nominated for best-supporting Oscars and I had thought, as much as I love these performers, I wonder if they're just nominations for their body of work. Wrong...they simply are amazing.
I won't promise you will enjoy this movie as much as I, but I highly recommend you give it a try.
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on April 17, 2015
I ordered this movie because I had not seen it in over 2 years. I was excited to get it and watch it and it did not disappoint at all!!! Wonderful British,who-done-it and the characters are just great. It is a keeper.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon April 23, 2011
I wish Amazon allowed 4.5 stars. That would feel more appropriate. Yes this is arguably not quite a great movie, but its certainly a very good, very enjoyable one. Wonderfully acted by an amazing ensemble cast, and shot with delicate grace, It may not add up to more than the sum of it's parts, and the murder mystery that takes up the last 30 minutes is more obvious and less graceful than what precedes it. But its so full of funny and occasionally moving moments, wonderful bits of dialogue, and tremendous texture, that it's lack of a deeper punch, while slightly disappointing, takes little away from a terrific film.
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on October 25, 2003
Although this film has a murder in it, it is really not a murder mystery. The murder simply serves as a maypole around which the large cast of characters and the many subplots weave in and out. For me it was a fascinating portrayal of the British class system, extending as it does from the Aristocrats (and Wannabees) to the servants that wait upon them. The chief complaint among the reviews that I read was that it was hard to hear. Those hushed tone are purposeful. Since everyone at the country estate, Gosford Park, has a secret agenda he or she is pursuing (money,illicit sex, a past to keep hidden), the characters must often speak to each other in hushed tones. What reveals their secret agendas often comes out in the sly and subtle non-verbal communications they carry on with each other. That it takes a while to catch on to each character and subplot is also purposeful. It's as if each of us (the viewers) is a first-time guest for this weekend "shoot" of birds and it takes us a while to catch on to the overtones and undertones of these people who are congregated under one roof. I found it a remarkable and fascinating experience, as if I am catching glimpses of life in a country estate through a periscope and having to connect the dots from one scene to another. I was willing to see it over and over (six times so far) to catch every nuance and subplot. The acting is undeniably superb.
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on March 4, 2003
I see Gosford more as an athletic event than as a movie. I have never seen the physical movement and gesture of the human person shown as beautifully and as subtly as Altman does it here. To me this masterpiece is about movement and how it explains personality and character. Elsie picking up the little dog and handing it off to Sir William in the hall is every bit as impressive as any double play that Chavez and Tejada have ever turned for the A's. (and they turn the most beautiful around the horn double play in baseball.) And Altman gave every character at least one move that I would say was all their own. Maybe the move is just standing there a certain way, like Constance's butler in the first scene did as the car drove away. I've seen it ten times now and the more I see it, the more I see it as a dance. Even though the dialogue was brilliant, I think its purpose was to accent a distinct manner taking place at that moment which is why if some piece of conversation is not heard or followed or understood perfectly, it ain't that big a deal......
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on January 7, 2003
I was wild to see this film after seeing the trailer for it. The cast, the British murder mystery, rainy country weekend, bumbling inspector, etc. Just my cup of tea. Yet, while this is very moody and atmospheric, with top-drawer casting, as a mystery it doesn't make it. The pace is very slow, almost excruciatingly so. The murder, which is led up to cleverly, takes far too long to happen. There are many suspects with overlapping plotlines, but when you unravel them all, they lead nowhere. The ending was a complete bust. It's your typical abovestairs/belowstairs British class system drama. It's more about that than the murder; a dismal let-down when one was expecting a more updated Agatha Christie-type mystery, which is just what the trailer portrayed. There were too many unresolved storylines, some of which were interesting, but destined to remain unexplored. My overall impression is that this is just a slice of a better, more rounded film. Others have complained that Altman focuses more on style than substance, and I would have to agree in the case of Gosford Park.
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on November 9, 2002
Gosford Park (Robert Altman, 2001)
I was truly a glutton for punishment this weekend—not only a Joel Schumacher film, but one by Robert Altman, as well. Altman has been trying for thirty-two years to make another film as good as M*A*S*H. He hasn’t succeeded yet, though Gosford Park is the closest he’s come to it. Like M*A*S*H, Altman here assembles an exceptionally high-powered cast, containing too many both rising and established stars to single anyone out, and throws them into a situation; here, a hunting party. Mismarketed as a mystery film, this is actually something of a drawing-room drama.
Unfortunately, it seems Altman considered it a mystery film, as well, because the pace and character development necessary to films of the latter sort is utterly absent. The viewer is rushed through plotline after plotline, given almost nothing to go on in each episode and no time at all to get to know the characters. No one is onscreen long enough for us to develop an affinity for any of the plotlines (of which the much ballyhooed murder of the host, played by Michael Gambon [Longitude] is only one, and a minor one at that), and a few characters jump plotlines as readily as some characters jump from bed to bed.
There was much to work with here, and in a movie two or three times as long, it might have all been done justice. As it is, the performances by such brilliant actors as Emily Watson, Clive Owen, and Helen Mirren do nothing but hint at what might have been found had any of them had enough screen time to really start developing. (Mirren, as always, should be singled out; what little screen time she has is riveting.)
That Gosford Park was nominated for both Best Picture and Best Director in a year when such films as The Others, Donnie Darko, Monsters, Inc., Shrek, Y Tu Mama Tambien, The Man Who Wasn’t There, (oh, you get the idea) were ignored for both awards is ludicrous. **
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on November 1, 2002
I don't know, but I want to give it a go.
My main objection to the film differs from those who had trouble picking up on the conversation, who disliked its rather shopworn depiction of English class warfare, who objected to the murky sound, who were annoyed by the highly stylized ensemble playing by an admittedly brilliant cast; these were merely annoyances for me.
I object to this film because I feel it has neither heart nor soul--it's all surfaces (albeit, slick ones, as one expects in an Altman film), except for a rather nasty view of the human condition that leaks out between the frames. Are people really as mean-spirited, arch, bungling, stupid, and unlikeable as this sick crew of characters? Not in my experience. Could the British class system really have been as dreadful as it appears in this film? I doubt it. We get an entirely different picture of English life in, say, Dorthoy Sayers or J. R. R. Tolkien or Evelyn Waugh--one that strikes me as a lot more true-to-life and balanced. Really, this film is very heavy handed, almost ideological, in its depiction of troubled relations between classes. Yes, Kelly MacDonald as Mary, Lady Trentham's wide-eyed-but-not-as-naive-as-she-seems Lady's Maid, brings some welcome relief to these morose goings on, but for me it is too little to rescue the on-screen shambles that played out before my befuddled eyes.
Now I'll come completely clean. I haven't very much liked any of the Altman films I've seen, and generally for the same sort of reasons. For me, he sacrifices style for content, he has a warped view of humanity, he delights in confusion and misdirection, and he deconstructs without concomitant reconstruction, a formula for unsatisfactory art.
He's just not my cup of tea.
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