Gosford Park



UK/US 2001
director : Robert Altman
script : Julian Fellowes (based on idea by Altman & Bob Balaban)
producers include : Altman, Balaban
cinematography : Andrew Dunn
editing : Tim Squyres
music : Patrick Doyle
lead actors : Kelly Macdonald, Clive Owen, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emily Watson, Helen Mirren, Ryan Philippe, Maggie Smith
with : Eileen Atkins, Bob Balaban, Alan Bates, Charles Dance, Stephen Fry, Michael Gambon, Richard E Grant, Tom Hollander, Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Northam, Geraldine Somerville, Sophie Thompson, James Wilby, etc.
134-137 minutes

England, 1932: guests arrive for a weekend’s shooting and partying at Gosford Park, the stately home owned by mega-rich industrialist Sir William McCordle (Gambon) and his aristocratic wife Lady Sylvia (Scott Thomas). The guests bring their own servants, who mingle ‘downstairs’ with the resident staff while the well-heeled denizens of ‘upstairs’ flirt, bitch and bicker. Old jealousies, rivalries and resentments come to the fore – culminating in cold-blooded murder.

Altman’s first British film is another of his trademark woozy mega-ensembles in which he assembles a top-notch cast and watch what happens when their characters are brought into social collision. Among a constellation of Brit acting talent, Scott Thomas is ideal as the acidic Sylvia, bored languidly shitless by her boorish husband and scarcely able to contain her delight when he’s removed from the picture. But if there’s a lead, it’s Macdonald as Mary, timid ‘lady in waiting’ for Sylvia’s dowager aunt, the crusty Countess Trentham (Smith). As the least experienced of the servants, she’s the audience’s surrogate, and the other characters are always explaining to her (and us) who’s who and what’s what.

Part socio-economic snapshot in the style of Renoir’s Regle de Jeu, part spoofy deconstruction of the Agatha Christie country-house murder mystery, Gosford Park brings a welcome new eye to very stale period-drama material. Many of the subplots remain underdeveloped, but it’s hard to mind very much when Altman is on this kind of form, so nimbly hovering between total chaos and absolute control.

31st January, 2002
(seen Jan-23-02, Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle)

to read the full version of this review, click here

This film appeared in the Fipresci Selection 2001-2002 : click here for full list

by Neil Young
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