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Robert Altman's long, fragmented and very hit-or-miss career reaches
of his periodic highs with this clever and beautifully realised
of the English class system and skit on the classic Agatha Christie
Altman's preferences for kaleidoscopic social observation has sometimes failed in the past due to the weight of its own ambition: multi-plotted and multi-charactered snapshots of time and place held together by loose ties or a general thematic framework. Sometimes it pays off spectacularly (Nashville); sometimes it flatters to deceive (Short Cuts).
It works well here due to the necessary discipline of the single location and the greater opportunities for interaction among the characters this affords. Add to that an exemplary cast of (mostly) British character actors and a knowing script by Julian Fellowes that gives Altman's keenly observant camera plenty of time to make its own points.
Rightly, Altman is less concerned with the murder mystery, which is almost an aside, than with the opportunity given by a shooting party at a 1930s stately mansion to observe the English aristocracy and their servants in social interaction.
Never happier than when involved in a bit of human anthropology, Altman lightly dissects the complexities and hierarchies which go on both above and below stairs; in which many subtle and unsubtle rituals are played out among groups of people who clearly dislike each other but are forced through circumstance, need or employment to observe the fundamental social practices required.
1932 is also a time of intruding change into the nature of the old English ruling classes, slowly disintegrating in this between-wars period and, in this case, largely reliant on the wealth of one particularly reluctant patron to keep them in furs and flunkies. In on this act comes the (to them) faintly odious whiff of 20th century new money, represented by Hollywood and popular culture. These intruders are kept in their place, but the message is clear - change is coming, and coming fast.
The muted colours and autumnal setting continue this theme of a world in terminal decline and of a group of characters keenly conscious of place and tradition yet also wearied and exhausted by it. Only at the very end, when fundamental change has occurred and many characters are left to face up to very different destinies do we see a bit of sunshine creeping in, heralding the dawn of a new era.
The cast are all excellent, with special mention deserving of Maggie Smith's effortless scene stealing as a bitchy but broke old Countess; the ever reliable Jeremy Northam as matinee idol Ivor Novello, well aware of his place in the great scheme of things and young Kelly Macdonald in the pivotal role of Smith's harassed maid who's inquisitiveness rattles a whole load of family skeletons.
The reason why many viewers strongly dislike or even hate the movie "Gosford Park" is because they misunderstand the point trying to be made. Gosford Park wasn't made to focus on whodunit (if it was, why would they tell you who did). If viewers think that Gosford Park is "boring" or "confusing" or even "the worst movie ever", it may be that you're not willing to see what really is portrayed: the authenticity and its story. The authenticity of Gosford Park is as close as it can get to real life as it was back then as it can get. Experts who were maids, butlers, or cooks themselves were constantly at the scene criticizing the actors behavior and moves. Another main focus is the story behind it. The brilliant story as well as excellent character development are like no other: only Robert Altman could do a film such as this. So, next time you see it (which I highly recommend that you do), be PATIENT and actually be WILLING the enjoy the differences in film-making, not just the kind of films you like.
When Robert Altman makes a new film, it's always a noteworthy event that
the attention of critics and audiences alike: large productions with
casts of major Hollywood movie stars, playing real people with full,
characters, each with their own subplots that intertwine only subtly,
the end when it
all finally makes sense. In Gosford Park, Altman makes only two changes to
formula: Hollywood stars are replaced by Top British talent that may be
most American audiences, and a straightforward murder mystery supplants
traditionally complicated plot line. It is in these changes, however,
his audiences in a new way.
The story takes place in 1932 at a
gathering of aristocrats and their servants
for a hunting country weekend at the
estate of Sir William McCordle.
Some time after all the guests are settled in
and whose affairs begin to intertwine, one of them
is bumped off. While all the characters
are well fleshed out, it's Mary, played by Kelly
Macdonald, who is the focus of the drama.
She's the maid of Maggie Smith's Countess
Constance of Trentham, and is being
groomed to follow a path to become head servant.
After the murder takes place, emotions
unfold and secrets from the past are revealed
that help the characters - and the
audience - solve the mystery. The drama is even more
punctuated when Mary's innocence and
naiveté is lost as she pieces together the deeper
scandal, involving servant-master sexual
relations and bastard children.
One of the best aspects of film is how it illustrates that fine line dividing the master-servant social structures, and how often that line is crossed, reminding us that life is just a game of costumes and masks, and we're all the same underneath. While the story was reminiscent of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, where it's the mystery that captivates the audience, Altman goes beyond the mystery with Gosford Park by using the murder as a vehicle to draw attention to the human condition and class hierarchy.
On the downside, but to no surprise to fans of Altman's work, the movie is often hard to follow. His style of filmmaking involves entanglements of characters and subplots that don't appear to have much to do with one another at first blush, and Gosford Park takes this to the next level. Here, the murder takes place at the climax of this confusion, leaving you rather disoriented in the middle of the 2-hour-plus drama. Fortunately, the tone loosens up when a comedy-dim police inspector basically gets nowhere in his investigation, but the pieces start coming together through the other characters. The good news is that it all seems to come together in the end in a way that didn't require grasping every detail of every scene.
Despite its intricacies and confusing moments, there is so much more to Gosford Park that makes it interesting and enchanting. While it is clearly a sophisticated piece of film work with impeccable acting, directing and design, don't stress about not keeping up with it all the time. Sit back and take it in, and you'll feel satisfied in the end.
Violence, mystery, sex, and murder, Gosford Park has it all. Director
Robert Altman once again takes the Hollywood formula and gives a unique
twist. The story begins when aristocrats during 1932 gather at Sir William
McCordle's (Michael Gambon) estate for a shooting party. The guests are
wealthy people with their trusty servants. People arrive at the McCordle
estate two by two and the traditions begin. The servants set up dinner for
their masters and the aristocrats begin their personal routines.
The story moves on as the characters begin to establish their names and the audience learns their varying social status. The intertwining stories among the guests begin to surface and the audience begins to realize there is much more in this house than what meets the eye.
During the night one member of the elite group is killed. None of the guests seemed to be fazed by this event and are only upset by the inconvenience it sets up for their lives.
The only one troubled is Constance, Countess of Trentham's maid, Mary (Kelly McDonald). The story begins to focus on Mary, who discovers secrets among the visitors and leads the audience to solve the mystery.
The great aspect about this film is Robert Altman's abilities to bring the past to life. He pays excellent attention to detail and is able to recreate the feelings and morals during the time period. He emerges the audience into a film world filled with history and story. Throughout the film Altman visually shows the audience the contrast between social classes through his various shots, lighting techniques, and camera filters. His fluid camera movements visually portray foreshadowing and relationship among characters. These elements give the audience a complete understanding of the mood and atmosphere in the film.
I recommend this movie to anybody who has the patience to sit and focus on this excellent film. Although the beginning is appropriately slow moving and the characters names are difficult to remember, the payoff is worth the efforts. This movie is made for active film viewers and all Robert Altman fans.
I wish I was more surprised that there are so many negative comments, but I'm not. This is not American Pie. It's a beautifully acted and very well written film for adults with an attention span of more than 5 minutes. Concentrate, it's worth it. I don't give 10's easily. This is a 10!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are directors who can direct huge, massive Cecil B. deMille epics
like Peter Jackson. There are directors who have done nail-biting
suspense, usually drenched in subtext, like the Director, Alfred
Hitchcock. There are others who can do whatever they want and create
beautiful, detached yet powerful films like Stanley Kubrick. Then there
are ones who are brilliant with ensembles, telling stories which
converge and often overlap within a main plot. One of them is the great
Woody Allen. The other one is Robert Altman.
GOSFORD PARK is an update of Jean Renoir's 1939 film LE REGLE DU JEU, in which wealthy relatives of an aristocrat come to a shooting party at a country home. Here, because of the obviously strained relationships between the host and his family has been less than amicable, it serves as a springboard where everyone's worst behavior and heretofore concealed feelings towards each other really come forth with an undertone of mean-spirited cruelty just brimming below the surface, while the servants act as non-entities when in their employers' presence but occasionally break into.
Boasting one of the best introduction sequences ever, itself lengthy but necessary, GOSFORD PARK is a tour-de-force of narration that recalls Jane Austen's work. We first see Mary Maceachran (Kelly MacDonald, playing innocence that becomes a keen observer), maid to Lady Constance Trentham (Dame Maggie Smith, having a splendid time in her role), and Lady Trentham's flighty demands and annoyed conversation as they make their way to Gosford Park. They cross paths with movie actor Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam), his agent Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban), and Weissman's protégé, Henry Denton (Ryan Phillippe), who is the only one who doesn't introduce himself proper for reasons made clear later on, also heading towards the manor. The hellos are strained -- Lady Trentham is clearly not the friendly type --, but Mary is starstruck like the young girl she is. Once they (and the other guests) reach the house, activity is buzzing almost factory-like (factory being an important term here) as the housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren, taking self-control and omniscient stillness to a whole different level in a performance that has to be analyzed frame by frame), calmly gives out her orders. However, Altman, Fellowes, and Patrick Doyle bring a little extra dose to the scene the moment Robert Parks (Clive Owen) enters the picture and introduces himself to Mrs. Wilson while Mrs. Croft (Eileen Atkins) passes them by and turns to hear. Not soon after, the camera makes a zoom into a bottle of poison: itself symbolic since immediately after that, the rest of the characters begin to show hints of their own shared "poison." Isobel McCordle (Camila Rutherford), William (Michael Gambon) and Sylvia McCordle's (Kristin Scott Thomas) daughter, is carrying on with Freddie Nesbitt (James Wilby) who is tied to a marriage of convenience to Mabel (Claudie Blakely) whom he feels ashamed of. The Stockbridges are also on the outs, Lord Raymond (Charles Dance) preferring the safety of "his own kind" according to Louisa Stockbridge (Geraldine Sommerville) who is one of William McCordle's many women. Mary learns of the McCordle's familial relation to Ivor Novello from fellow maid Elsie (Emily Watson) who, while staunchly expresses her near-hatred for Lady Sylvia, suggests ever-so-slightly she whom she prefers working for. A later scene reveals little love between the McCordles, William McCordle's repudiation of Lady Constance (and his threat of withdrawing her pension) and even less love between the Nesbitts, and even more tension between the Merediths (Tom Hollander and Natasha Wightman) as they try to con McCordle into some odd business. Greed, lust, and secrets, permeating every pore of Gosford Park and its inhabitants.
As a script (and a story written by Julian Fellowes), GOSFORD PARK is one of the most tightly and detailed ever committed to film because it forces the viewer to pay close attention to what characters are saying or suggesting to each other through their body language because everything has its own meaning; nothing is said or done to fulfill a plot requirement or for the sake of making conversation and even the most trivial hints are steps leading towards bigger and bigger denouements, primarily because the characters reveal in snippets pieces of information that tell us they know more about themselves than we do -- and this is its greatest asset. It is the equivalent of an abstract painting that upon scrutiny reveals layers and layers of what people dare not express up front and direct. This makes it, in fact, a delicious mystery and an open secret at the same time.
Death and its cause-effect, an element ever present in an Altman film, never looked more elegantly funny. In this movie, with death coming as a murder (or double-murder if you will) to a widely disliked character, only Louisa Stockbridge expresses concern and even then it's somewhat insincere. Altman has great fun exposing the crime scene, but even more fun introducing Stephen Fry as the largely inept investigator because while the truth is brandished right in front of his face under the form of the aforementioned "blink and miss" pieces of information we've been getting, he doesn't see it before we do.
GOSFORD PARK is also a meditation about an era where people who represent the exploited part of British society -- Robert Parks, Mrs. Wilson, Elsie --, and outsiders such as Mabel Nesbitt or Morris Weissman react against this caste system that seemed unmindful of the changes happening in the outside world. This doesn't necessarily solve anything or everything that occurs in GOSFORD PARK -- some plots are hinted at and that is fine -- but it does present an intricate comedy of manners of a time gone by just before WWII when Upstairs people mingled and shared their lives with the Downstairs people.
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.
In 1932, a group of socialites, landowners, Americans and their
servants arrive at a country house for a shooting party over the
weekend. As the relationships and tensions twist and weave upstairs, so
too do the dynamics and relationships between the various house staff
and valets below the stairs. Stories and characters play out but
whenever a murder takes place, the police move in and everyone is a
My plot summary suggests that this is a sort of murder mystery and that this will act as the driving force behind the narrative, however this is not the case and in reality the film is much more about the characters and relationships than it is about the murder. To this end the film will annoy some people who are perhaps not used to the sort of film that Altman produces and will be looking for the mystery aspect to be the all. However, I found the rather free-wheeling ensemble approach to be very enjoyable and the first hour moved quickly by thanks to the natural interactions and relationships and it was actually the mystery aspect that didn't work as well because it required too sudden a change in pace a change that the material seemed to resist and hamper. Despite this it does still work mainly because the Oscar winning writing brings out such convincing relationships and social politics, making it enjoyable and interesting throughout. The direction is great; the use of two cameras in group scenes means that the actors seem to flow around as naturally as their dialogue would suggest few seem forced to act to a fixed point and seem more realistic.
Considering the talent on board, it is not surprising that nobody really upstages anyone in particular and the ensemble feel is strong. Smith, Gambon, Thomas, Dance, Northam, Balaban and others make the upstairs fizzle with snobbery and unspoken resentments. Meanwhile the downstairs staff are just as well drawn and delivered by Mirren, Owen, Jacobi, Watson, Bates, Grant, Atkins and others. Stephen Fry is fairly minor within the plot but he is delightfully comic, even if he doesn't quite fit into the film that well.
Overall this is a classy film very much in the Altman style an ensemble piece of characters and relationships that we are left to drift within. Some viewers will find it frustrating that it takes so long to get to the point where the mystery kicks in but I actually found this to be the weaker aspect of the film and the most enjoyable parts were the well written characters and dialogue, which deservedly won Fellowes his Oscar.
I've read through the first page of comments made by the many users, and I
think I can understand why many think this film is overrated.
People think that this film sucks because they don't like multi-story plot
and they find it difficult to follow the stories. Some may expect a
spine-chilling murder and want to be scared and wet the seat. However, those
who really appreciate and understand the movie know more than clear that the
film itself focuses on the life of the upper-class people (and the life of
the time) rather than a bloody crime.
The movie defines the word originality no better. In fact, Julian Fellowes deserves all the awards he received since the screenplay is challenging to write and it's difficult to pack all the stories in a 150-minute movie. He explains the complicated relationship between the visitors so well, and he virtually creates a motive for murdering Sir William for everyone so that the crime itself becomes very mystifying. Of course, I must admit that there are really too many characters and it's simply impossible to keep track of everyone's movement in the first half of the movie; but Julian leaves the necessary hints for our understanding that our feeling intensifies more and more as the story unfolds. Even better is the dialogue - sharp, sarcastic, amusing, clever. It confers life to the film and fully delineates the character of the many visitors however short the time is when they appear on the screen. Before I saw it, I had always asked why Memento did not win an Oscar. But the time when the film ended, I was left stunned on my seat. I mean both stories are great and original, but when comparing the relative difficulty in writing the screenplay, Gosford Park apparently wins.
Gosford Park is to me perhaps the second best movie I've seen this year (after A Beautiful Mind). If you like films like Magnolia and Traffic, which require much patience to enjoy, it's perhaps the greatest movie of your lifetime.
It thrills me to say that after a string of stinkers ("Dr. T and the Women,"
"The Gingerbread Man") and so-so light films ("Cookie's Fortune"), Robert
Altman has an unequivocally excellent film on his hands with "Gosford Park."
It's a film that works on many layers and needs to be seen more than once
for one to fully appreciate its resonance.
The film admittedly stinks as a murder mystery---it's almost funny how little Altman himself seems interested in the who-dunnit. But, typically for Altman, it's the deconstruction of the genre that he's interested in, not the genre itself. This movie isn't about a murder in a country house; it's a movie about class differences and people connecting (or not connecting) with one another.
It seems futile to mention stand out performances in a film filled to the rafters with stand-out performances, but I did especially like Emily Watson as a cheeky maid, Helen Mirren as the "perfect servant," and Kelly MacDonald as the novice lady's attendant who grows more than anyone else over the course of the film.
The film is at its best when it's probing the emotional depths of the story---it comes across as a bit too glib when the satire gets especially acidic (mostly with the Kristin Scott Thomas character), but like the best of his movies ("Nashville," "M*A*S*H," "Short Cuts") Altman knows how to control his own cynicism and doesn't let sarcasm rule.
With his on again-off again track record, we can expect the next Altman film to tank, so let's enjoy this one while we can.
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