Film: Gosford Park

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Film:

Gosford Park

Director: Robert Altman
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Genres:
Distributor: Universal Studios

Gosford Park finds director Robert Altman in sumptuously fine form indeed. From the opening shots, as the camera peers through the trees at an opulent English country estate, Altman exploits the 1930s period setting and whodunit formula of the film expertly. Aristocrats gather together for a weekend shooting party with their dutiful servants in tow, and the upstairs/downstairs division of the classes is perfectly tailored to Altman’s method (as employed in Nashville and Short Cuts) of overlapping bits of dialogue and numerous subplots in…

Reviews

Amazon.com

Gosford Park finds director Robert Altman in sumptuously fine form indeed. From the opening shots, as the camera peers through the trees at an opulent English country estate, Altman exploits the 1930s period setting and whodunit formula of the film expertly. Aristocrats gather together for a weekend shooting party with their dutiful servants in tow, and the upstairs/downstairs division of the classes is perfectly tailored to Altman’s method (as employed in Nashville and Short Cuts) of overlapping bits of dialogue and numerous subplots in order to betray underlying motives and the sins that propel them. Greed, vengeance, snobbery, and lust stir comic unrest as the near dizzying effect of brisk script turns is allayed by perhaps Altman’s strongest ensemble to date. First and foremost, Maggie Smith is marvelous as Constance, a dependent countess with a quip for every occasion; Michael Gambon, as the ill-fated host, Sir William McCordle, is one of the most palpably salacious characters ever on screen; Kristin Scott Thomas is perfectly cold yet sexy as Lady Sylvia, Sir William’s wife; and Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, and Clive Owen are equally memorable as key characters from the bustling servants’ quarters below. Gosford Park manages to be fabulously entertaining while exposing human shortcomings, compromises, and our endless need for confession. —Fionn Meade

Barnes and Noble

After a long career as one of cinema’s most offbeat chroniclers of American culture, director Robert Altman turned his eye on England and made his best movie since his ‘70s heyday. Gosford Park takes place on a grand English country estate in the 1930s. When the host of a weekend hunting party is murdered, everyone—well-heeled guests and servants alike—becomes a potential suspect in the ensuing investigation. An Agatha Christie-style murder mystery might seem unlikely material for Altman, but Julian Fellowes’s Oscar-winning screenplay is more interested in examining the intricacies of the British class system than it is in whodunit. Gosford Park also allows Altman to do two of the things he does best: subvert a familiar genre and orchestrate a large ensemble of actors, something he accomplishes here to dazzling effect. The dream cast includes Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Michael Gambon as aristocrats, and Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, Clive Owen, Alan Bates, Derek Jacobi, and Richard E. Grant as servants. In the best Altman tradition, each character, no matter how limited his or her screen time, manages to create an indelible impression. Even pretty boy Ryan Phillippe, portraying a shady valet, delivers a surprisingly effective performance; the only weak link in the cast is Bob Balaban as a visiting Hollywood producer (ironically, Balaban co-produced Gosford Park). Altman uses his trademark techniques—a roving camera and densely layered soundtrack—to perfection here. Crucial information about the guests upstairs, who are never seen without a servant somewhere in the frame, is divulged through fleeting snatches of downstairs gossip. The result plays like a radical version of Upstairs, Downstairs in which the lives of servants and masters are fatally entwined. While not quite at the level of Nashville or the director’s other earlier triumphs, Gosford Park—which received seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director—proves that the 70-something Altman hasn’t lost his punch. Kryssa Schemmerling

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