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 is a lovingly crafted, beautifully acted ensemble piece set in an English Country House which is superficially a murder mystery. In reality, it is damning indictment of the class system and the level of servitude expected from those at the top of the tree from those that wait upon them.
What was surprising was the level of humour that Altman brings to what is, as it unfolds, a very sad story of transgression and loss. Maggie Smith has all the funniest lines as a viscious but impoverished woman who comes to her family with begging cap in hand. Those playing characters "above stairs" all look and sound the part and effortlessly give the impression of wealth and privelege and the callousness that breeds.
Many of the "downstairs" characters drive the story and there are some wonderfully wry performances from the likes of Richard E Grant and Alan Bates. As the moral centre of the film, Kelly McDonald is excellent and is well matched by Emily Watson as Emily and Clive Owen as Parkes. Ruling the downstairs troop is Helen Mirren whose cool visage hides a seething mass of emotion. A well deserved nomination here.
Only Robert Altman could assemble a cast of this magnitude and distinction and have many of them speak no more than a few lines ! Greats of English theatre like Derek Jacobi have small but memorable roles and there is not a bad note struck from any of the predominantly English cast.
I was slightly puzzled by the character played by Ryan Phillipe (although his perforamce was fine) but felt that the intrusion of two Americans into this English mix worked well to highlight the entrenched class roles played by everyone in the house.
Whilst perhaps not his best work, this is a very good Altman film - we move in and out of conversations whilst never losing their import and the cimematography has a fluidity that few other film makers can match.
A classy piece of film-making that rewards careful attention from the viewer.
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