Gosford Park, a review

Title: GOSFORD PARK (2001)
Director: Robert Altman
Written by: Julian Fellows
Starring: Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Kristen Scott Thomas, Clive Owen, Jeremy Northam, Emily Watson, Ryan Phillippe, Bob Balaban, Charles Dance, Derek Jacobi and Alan Bates.
Genre: Period Drama | Murder-Mystery

We’re having a Whodunit weekend, this weekend. Last night we decided on watching GOSFORD PARK written by Downton Abbey scribe, Julian Fellows—and yes, it’s true, Downton Abbey was supposed to be a spin-off movie to this one but, in the end, ended up as a made for TV drama series, and set in an earlier period.

Gosford Park includes an absolute stellar cast of who’s who in British screen royalty. Literally an A-List cast of players in a smart, cleverly written, and darkly humorous look at the upstairs-downstairs lives of the landed gentry and their servants.

Set in 1932, between one war and then next, in a time of upheaval and great changes afoot for both those above stairs, and those below. We get gifted a dark, droll, sly look at the machinations of Bill, AKA Sir William McCordle, played by the delightfully grumpy Michael Gambon (Dumbledore II from Harry Potter) and his equally money-grabbing, slightly licentious, and definitely crazy family. Along with Gambon, we have Kristen Scott Thomas playing his wife, Lady Sylvia McCordle, Maggie Smith is the Countess of Trentham (Sir William’s sister). While downstairs we have Helen Mirren playing the housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson, Alan Bates playing Jennings the butler, and Richard E. Grant playing the footman George. So. Much, Acting, Talent!

At a planned weekend shooting party where, it seems, everyone, including the butler, have secrets to hide. A bonfire of vanities is set to burst into flames as the weekend rolls on, and a myriad of dark secrets and lies are exposed along the way culminating in the death of Sir William and, for rather unexpected reasons.

Wonderfully droll, beautifully filmed and, of course, acted to perfecting by a cast that seems to thrive in these kind of movies. There are some fun moments of inadvertent scene stealing between actors, as the barbs and vitriol fly. Altman doesn’t miss a trick in squeezing every last drop out of each and every actor no matter how fleeting a moment we see them on screen for.

So many stories interwoven and satisfyingly told from a variety of perspectives, with just the right balance between cutting remarks, heartbreaking revelation, and intrigue, the characters definitely create plenty of frisson and friction, whether below stairs, or above.

Gosford Park delivers a biting satirical look at a time and place that still manages to draw us in, like a secret peep-show, we have to look.

+ + +

Best throw away line: Lady Sylvia McCordle (Kristen Scott Thomas), “Oh, don’t worry about him. He’s just an American staying with us.

Best line: Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren), “I am the perfect servant. I have no life.”

Fun Trivia Fact: The character, Ivor Novello, played by Jeremy Northam, was a real-life actor and composer. Six of his songs were included in Gosford Park‘s soundtrack. His film, “The Lodger” that Lady Constance mentions as being a flop, was a real movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock, based on Jack the Ripper. A lovely bit of ghoulish background.