Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Gosford Park

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 3/30/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Based on an original idea from Robert Altman and Bob Balaban, Gosford Park is a murder mystery set in the British countryside in the course of a weekend involving a group of wealthy people and their servants as a conflict emerges between the two parties. Directed by Robert Altman and screenplay by Julian Fellowes, the film is a take on the whodunit mystery as it's set in the 1930s that is a mixture of comedy, drama, and suspense. With an all-star cast that includes Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Stephen Fry, Kelly MacDonald, Jeremy Northam, Kristin Scott Thomas, Bob Balaban, Ryan Phillippe, Alan Bates, Richard E. Grant, Camila Rutherford, Emily Watson, Eileen Atkins, Clive Owen, Tom Hollander, Charles Dance, Derek Jacobi, and Geraldine Somerville. Gosford Park is a witty yet delightful whodunit from the brilliant Robert Altman.

A weekend gathering at the British gathering is happening as a group of rich socialites and many others arrive at the home of Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas). Among those arriving are the Countess of Trentham (Maggie Smith) with her maid Mary MacEachern (Kelly Macdonald), Lord and Lady Stockbridge (Charles Dance and Geraldine Sommerville) with their servant Robert Parks (Clive Owen), Freddie and Mabel Nesbitt (James Wilby and Claudie Blakely), Lt. Commander Anthony and Lady Lavinia Meredith (Tom Hollander and Natasha Wightman), Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam), and American producer Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban) with his servant Henry Denton (Ryan Phillippe). The servants are accompanied by the head butler Jennings (Alan Bates) along with housekeeper Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren), head maid Elsie (Emily Watson), jewels security chief George (Richard E. Grant), and the chef Mrs. Croft (Eileen Atkins). Immediately, conversations occur throughout the house as Denton tells Wilson and Croft that his boss is a vegetarian as he observes the place much to the annoyance of his fellow maids and servants. Meanwhile at the house, a lot is happening where the Nesbitts are having marital issues where Freddie seeks to have an affair with Sir McCordle's daughter Isobel (Camilla Rutherford) and Lt. Commander Meredith is seeking to have a business deal with Sir McCordle.

While dinner is happening both up and downstairs, Denton continues to ask questions to the maids and servants where Parks reveals himself to be an orphan where a couple of late arrivals happen in Lord Rupert Standish (Laurence Fox) and his friend Jeremy Blond (Trent Ford). Mary does some last minute work as she tries to figure out how to work in a big house without bothering anyone. On the next day during pheasants hunting with Sir McCordle, things don't go well during the hunt while Anthony Meredith and Freddie Nesbitt are both eager to talk to him. Instead, things don't go well as everyone starts to get testy with one another leading to a tense dinner where a comment by Lady Sylvia has Elsie finally speaking out in defense of Sir McCordle. Elsie leaves due to her behavior as Ivor Novello decides to change the mood by entertaining the guests while Weissman is waiting for a phone call. Later that night, Lady Stockbridge makes a shocking discovery where Inspector Thomas (Stephen Fry) and Constable Dexter (Ron Webster arrive to the house to investigate. With Thompson amazed by the home, he talks to all of the servants including Probert (Derek Jacobi) as well as the guest about their connections to McCordle.

Still, revelations are unveiled into why Henry Denton had been so snoopy as many of the guests and servants who killed McCordle and why. Mary makes a discovery about Parks in relation to McCordle as does Dexter. Once the investigation winds down, Mary receives a final lesson from Mrs. Wilson about servitude.

While the movie is a classic whodunit where everyone is a suspect, Robert Altman takes the genre off its feet and makes it into something where it becomes more about the people behind the homes and how they run the place. Yet, it's not surprising that the servants, butlers, cooks, and valets are far more interesting than the people above the basements who spend their time talking about things common people can't relate to. That doesn't mean the posh aren't uninteresting, there's moments when they can be interesting. Yet, they are out of touch somewhat with the real world when Weissman talks about a movie he plans to make yet, most of the people he is surrounded by aren't interested or intend to watch his films. Really, the film is about a murder and how people react to it while living their own idea of life.

Screenwriter Julian Fellowes does an amazing job in taking the structure of making the story feel like a theatrical play of sorts. There's the first act where the story introduces the characters, the second act about the murder and the investigation, and the third is the aftermath. It's all told in a simple way while it's all helmed by the brilliance of Robert Altman. Taking an almost, entirely British cast whom all seem to have some kind of theater background. The film does feel like a theater play where all the actors have their place and their own take on the character.

Yet, Altman deconstructs all of that to the point where the actors feel a bit loose, improvise, and enjoy themselves. Including a very comedic scene where Maggie Smith is seen laughing as if she's having a hell of a time. The camera rarely stands still as it's constantly moving to observe a conversation, a moment where people are having fun or something else. It's all part of the Altman style of improvisation, overlapping dialogue, and something that feels natural for the audience to relate to. Yet, it still works to the point where though at times, it's hard to follow, it's a lot of fun to watch.

Cinematographer Andrew Dunn does great work in capturing the atmosphere and difference of the two cultures with very dark, intimate lighting schemes on the basements to more showy lights on the upstairs part. Production designer Stephen Altman and art director Sarah Hauldren do amazing work in playing to the film's authenticity of 1930s cars, objects, and such with costume designer Jenny Beavan creating wonderfully lavish clothing for the upper class people.

Editor Tim Squyres adds to the film's energetic, improvisational style with some wonderful cutting and tension to build the momentum for the suspense. Sound editor Nigel Mills also adds to the film's atmosphere with a great sequence where Ivor Novello sings and how the people downstairs react to his music playing in the background. The music of Novello is heard as is a wonderfully melodic, suspenseful score from Patrick Doyle whose piano flourishes and orchestral arrangements adds to the film's unique energy.

Then there's the film's amazing cast in which, there isn't a single bad performance. To the smallest of performances to the most well-known cast member. Yet, it's a bit hard at times to remember everyone involved. Small performances from Trent Ford, Laurence Fox, Teresa Churcher as cook Bertha, Jeremy Swift as the gay butler Arthur, and Ron Webster as Constable Dexter are memorable. Sophie Thompson is great as the ever-loyal Dorothy who seems willing to do anything for Mr. Jennings. Charles Dance and Geraldine are wonderful as Stockbridges with Clive Owen giving a fantastic role as the shady Robert Parks.

Derek Jacobi is wonderful as Mr. McCordle's personal butler with Richard E. Grant as the snotty George. Ryan Phillippe is very good as the shady Henry Denton who gets more than he bargains for when he plays both sides only to be humiliated in front of both. Bob Balaban is excellent as the consumed American producer Weissman who carries his own secret that only Denton knows. Jeremy Northam is wonderful as the entertaining Ivor Novello.

Maggie Smith is wonderfully funny as the spoiled Constance who enjoys her own lifestyle though not fully aware of the real world. Tom Hollander is good as the desperate businessman Meredith with James Wilby as another desperate man in Freddie Nesbitt. Natasha Wightman and Claudie Blakley are excellent as their respective wives to portray the contrast of their own love life with Blakley being more dramatic. Stephen Fry is charming as the inept, distracted Inspector Thompson, who never gets to say his name entirely while Emily Watson is amazing as the Cockney-accent Elsie whose experience and care for McCordle makes her a very complex character. Camila Rutherford is excellent as the suffering Isobel who is often pursued by Freddie with Kristin-Scott Thomas as her mother Sylvia, who is a divine as the bitchy, bored wife of McCordle.

Sir Michael Gambon is excellent as this awful yet mean man who has become more distracted by money and riches as he opposes all sorts of old businesses and such. Eileen Atkins and Helen Mirren are great as feuding members of the staff who don't like each other with Mirren giving an amazing performance as the perfect servant, Mrs. Wilson. The late Alan Bates is great as the head butler Mr. Jennings who have his own secrets while managing the house while Kelly MacDonald is great as the naive yet observant Mary MacEachern who learns what it takes to be a great servant.

Gosford Park is an incredible film from Robert Altman that features an amazing ensemble cast. The film is definitely among of Altman's great films for its take on the whodunit mysteries as well as utilizing his mastery of finding life in an ensemble piece. Notably as it explores the world of class and servitude and the roles that these people play in this way of life. In the end, Gosford Park is an extraordinarily rich film from Robert Altman.

Robert Altman Films: (The Delinquents) - (The James Dean Story) - Countdown (1968 film) - (That Cold Day in the Park) - M.A.S.H. - Brewster McCloud - McCabe & Mrs. Miller - (Images) - The Long Goodbye - Thieves Like Us - California Split - Nashville - Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson - 3 Women - (A Wedding) - (Quintet) - (A Perfect Couple) - (HealtH) - Popeye - (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) - (Streamers) - (Secret Honor) - (O.C. and Stiggs) - Fool for Love - (Beyond Therapy) - (Aria-Les Boreades) - (Tanner ‘88) - (Vincent & Theo) - The Player - Short Cuts - Pret-a-Porter - (Kansas City) - (The Gingerbread Man) - Cookie’s Fortune - Dr. T & the Women - The Company (2003 film) - (Tanner on Tanner) - A Prairie Home Companion

© thevoid99 2013


Unknown said...

Your review really makes me want to give this another chance. I started watching it a month ago, but failed to understand the accents and was missing key information as a result, so I gave up on it. I need to revisit it.

Chip Lary said...

I thought I was going to be bored by this, but I liked it quite a bit. Good review.

thevoid99 said...

@Teddy Casimir-It's not an easy film to watch and re-watches are definitely important. It will give you a chance to find things that you overlooked and also get a chance to understand what was happening.

@Chip-Thank you. It's not boring at all. In fact, I rather found it delightful.