Film: Gosford Park


Cast includes: Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Charles Dance, Jeremy Northam, Bob Balaban, Ryan Phillippe, Stephen Fry, Kelly Macdonald, Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, Alan Bates, Derek Jacobi
Writing/direction: Robert Altman (MASH)
Genre: Period drama/mystery (2001)

In brief: Part Upstairs Downstairs, part Agatha Christie, the weekend shooting party at Gosford Park starts out innocently enough. We arrive with Lady Trentham and her lady’s maid, Mary. “Did you have a horrid journey?” “Yes, very horrid,” answers Lady Trentham, although it’s Mary who’s soaked to the bone from standing in the pouring rain. The year in 1932, and the shooting party is at the country house of William McCordle, Lady Trentham’s cousin. William’s wealth comes from the many factories he owned, while his wife, Sylvia, is the one with the social status.

As the guests arrive we feel like voyeurs, catching bits of chatter here and there. Meanwhile downstairs, it’s a scene of British domestic efficiency. Mrs. Wilson, the housekeeper, makes sure the traveling valets and lady’s maids are properly settled in. Throughout the evening and the next day, we become aware that several guests are seeking favors from the uncouth and unlikable William. Long before the actual murder, it’s obvious that William will be the victim and that there will be many likely suspects among the guests. What’s less obvious is that many among the downstairs staff have connections with William, as well. But all will be sorted out once Inspector Thompson is on the case. The story starts out as many unrelated strands. Over the course of the extended weekend, some of the strands start coming together in very unexpected ways.

There aren’t many films that proceed in such a casual manner that could hold our attention as this one does. The visuals aspects are exquisite and the acting is excellent, as we would expect, given the large cast of first-rate talent Robert Altman brought together for Gosford Park. The dialog is interesting, even though we don’t always catch every word. What holds us in is the way the artful way the spine of the plot is woven into the casual strands. Almost without realizing it, we begin to figure some things out. Inspector Thompson, on the other hand, seems to be more interested in hob-knobbing with the socialites than in working out the clues. Oh well… it’s all delicious for us, even though poor William is murdered twice.

popcorn rating

4 popped kernels

Popped kernels for the excellent script, production, acting, casting, scenery. It's a fun story in the tradition of Agatha Christie, but with a nice twist. It's one I can watch again and again.

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