Set in the 1930s, the story takes place in an old-fashioned English country house where a weekend shooting party is underway. The story centers on the McCordle family, particularly the man of the house, William McCordle. Getting on in years, William has become benefactor to many of his relatives and friends. As the weekend goes on, secrets are revealed, and it seems everyone, above stairs and below, wants a piece of William and his money, but how far will they go to get it? Written by
This film opened the London Film festival and I was lucky enough to see get tickets. Robert Altman was there and so were most of the cast.
I've seen over half of the Altman cannon of work and this has to rank up with his best. Set in the 1920's, a group of people get together for a shooting weekend at the estate of Lord and Lady Mcardle. There are two sets of characters, the Toffs upstairs and the servants downstairs. With his customary multi-streaming overlapping narrative, cross cutting dialogue and interwoven storylines, Altman sets up dynamics within and between the two classes. There are up to 32 speaking parts and each of them is invested with a clear identity. Just from a few lines, a gesture, raising of an eyebrow, we have an idea of a character's feelings and motivations.
At times the narrative moves at such a fast pace, but we never lose track of whats going on. Scenes such as the Toffs in the Drawing room having tea - many conversations happening, dynamics being set up - and another where the servants are rushing around downstairs, as the camera weeves its way through the corridors, are exhilirating cinema!! Altman has a tight grip on the proceedings and this only wavers slightly towards the end.
There is a fantastic scene, where Ivor Novello - a guest, is invited to sing for the other guests and all the servants listen covertly from whatever vanatge point they can find. Novello oustays his welcome, amongst the gentry, but the servants cant get enough.
What Altman has done here, helped enormously by the wonderfully humourous script by Julian Fellows, is invested these period characters with a modern sensibility. These are not the boring, stuffed dummy museum pieces of your typical period picture, these people are real. Rich or poor, their fallibilities, desires, disaffections and frustrations are evidently clear.
This movie is so good, I wanted to get up and cheer at certain points. Altman is well served by the 'creme de la creme' of British Actors. All are excellent; Maggie Smith, Emily Watson, Helen Mirren, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Jeremy Northam to name a few. This film may not be everyones cup of tea and i am someone who can go watch anything from Scream 3 to the latest hot film from Asia, but those that invest the time on this film, will be much rewarded. Altman deserves the Oscar that has eluded him for far too long.
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