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Right said Bob!
oldreekie54623 May 2003
Robert Altman's long, fragmented and very hit-or-miss career reaches another of his periodic highs with this clever and beautifully realised dissection of the English class system and skit on the classic Agatha Christie whonunnit.

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.
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Good Work, as usual...
argv7 January 2002
When Robert Altman makes a new film, it's always a noteworthy event that gets the attention of critics and audiences alike: large productions with huge ensemble casts of major Hollywood movie stars, playing real people with full, fleshed out characters, each with their own subplots that intertwine only subtly, until the end when it all finally makes sense. In Gosford Park, Altman makes only two changes to this formula: Hollywood stars are replaced by Top British talent that may be unfamiliar to most American audiences, and a straightforward murder mystery supplants his traditionally complicated plot line. It is in these changes, however, where Altman charms 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.
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A review of a great film
Mezzotint9128 February 2002
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.
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We All Have Secrets.
nycritic15 November 2005
Warning: 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.

Edited 11.17.2006
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Whodunit Ain't the Focus
yue_iv10 August 2004
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.
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Not for everyone
TonyG-717 August 2002
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!
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The mystery aspect slows the pace but the film is best during the class tension and interrelationships
bob the moo2 May 2005
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 suspect.

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.
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An excellent period film with an outstanding cast.
stuch11 August 2002
This Robert Altman film is one of the best movies of the last decade. The main plot and many sub-plots appear slow to most uninitiated people, but to those who understand the British class system and its demise will find this a truly gripping and amusing film. The performances by the mainly British cast is vastly superior to that which would be given by our American friends.

Maggie Smith deserves a special mention for her outstanding performance as the aged leech Aunt, and the timing of her lines is immaculate.

The only criticism I have of the cast is............why Stephen Fry?? Hugh Laurie would have been more suited to this role.

Rating 10/10.
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A Class Act
Watchalot10 March 2002
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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stephenawebb21 November 2001
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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Gossip Park
Chrysanthepop5 June 2010
In this exhilarating chambre piece, set in a mansion during the 1930s, Robert Altman meticulously explores the social interaction between the English aristocracy and their servants. Class distinction is demonstrated funnily between the people who live above the stairs and those who live below. It is especially the interaction between the characters, who clearly dislike one another but are forced by circumstance (due to various obligations) to practice social rituals, that provides some of the most amusing cinematic moments. It is all done with clever subtlety.

Bob Balaban and Robert Altmann story idea combined with Fellowes's eloquent writing is first rate. The dialogues are filled with wit, humour and subtle depth. The mansion itself plays a key character in the story but it is the spellbinding cinematography that functions as the mansion's eyes. The camera is constantly on the move and the viewer feels like an ignored but curious member of the crowd. Many themes are tackled in the movie but it is done quietly. The film also slowly demonstrates the disintegration of the English class system (that started around the war).

Altman has assembled a mountain of talented actors that include a bitchy Maggie Smith, a pompous Michael Gambon, an obnoxious Kristin Scott Thomas, a vulnerable Camilla Rutherford, a desperate Tom Hollander, a devil-may-care Geraldine Somerville, a knows-where-he-stands Jeremy Northam, a douchebag Bob Balaban, a horny Ryan Phillipe, a stupid Stephen Fry, a loyal Sophie Thompson, a principled Helen Mirren, an enigmatic Clive Owen, a no-nonsense Emily Watson, a not-to-be-messed-with Richard E. Grant, a pulling-it-together Derek Jacobi, a frightened Alan Bates, a grumpy Eileen Atkins and an adorable Kelly Macdonald. 'Gosford Park' has one of the best ensemble cast.

I also loved the soundtrack. It is never overdone. The jazzy tracks contribute well in setting the atmosphere and there are some wonderful songs performed by Jeremy Northam's character.

In the beginning, it is a little difficult to keep up with the names of the characters which leads to a bit of confusion but with a little bit of patience, once you're over that, it becomes easy to follow. Like a beautiful painting, once it captivates the viewers attention it immediately involves them in an alternate world. From the start, you feel like an ignored guest and at the end it's as though the host has just seen you out.
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Altman Back in Top Form
bsilvey25 October 2002
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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Atmosphere reigns supreme
Excellent movie about an "idea." The murder mystery is itself a "MacGuffin" to the central question of some of the characters' inter-relationships. This film is deserving of its Academy Award and nominations !! Watch it twice since it bears more insights on a closer viewing; it is full of "inside" entertainment for those who love the films of that era and the pop music genre of the 1930's. Truly an ensemble effort with some excellent work by hardworking veterans and young British geniuses.
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You'll like it if you love films like Magnolia and Traffic
ignatiusloyala10 May 2002
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.
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Didn't quite do it for me
Mattias Petersson27 April 2005
Sometimes when i see a movie i walk out of the theater with a strange sensation. Not exactly knowing what it was i just watched. It was not great, nor was it bad. And soon, within fifteen minutes of my departure from my seat, do i begin having trouble retelling the story of the movie or even saying what it was about. Gosford Park is one of those movies.

Robert Altman certainly shows that he is a very competent film-maker here. Both technically complete as well as narratively interesting this movie is filled with directorial skills. It certainly doesn't lack the actors either, this film is very well acted throughout. Which is not really surprising considering the credits, a long line of fine actors. The story is nothing revolutionary, but quite interestingly told. It's given from two perspectives, first the noble people and then their servants. A relationship that is also causing quite a lot of comedy.

So with all that i have recounted above this should be a great movie. Well, i would have to say both yes and no. While i found it to have many qualities there is just something about the whole thing that failed to excite me. Sometimes when i watch a movie i get the feeling that the director has almost worked too hard trying to perfect his style. I get that feeling here. The movie is almost too much, like someone somewhere is trying too hard. Or maybe it's just me. For whatever reasons this polished and well thought-through movie just didn't quite do it for me, even though it was certainly decent entertainment for as long as it lasted. I rate it 6/10.
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Gosford Park is one of the slowest, pointless, dullest, unsatisfying experiences I've had at the cinema
Sa'ar Vardi28 July 2007
I saw Gosford Park in theaters way back in April 2002, after it was nominated for a slew of Academy Awards a month earlier. Naturally, I was looking forward for some good social satire in the shape of the always reliable "clash of the classes" theme. Robert Altman had the right pedigree as a director, and I actually liked some of his previous works such as The Player and Dr. T and the Women, so there was some cause for interest there. Also, this was promoted as a story of a classic old Hollywood murder mystery, another motivation to go see it. Boy was I wrong.

I can't even start to explain how many things went wrong for me upon watching this train-wreck of a film. For starters, the film was way too talky - not that its bad, but in this case, the endless discussions never actually reached a point. Also, it was very hard to relate to the belated ensemble cast, given the fact they were mostly made up of actors portraying pretentious and extremely dull English snobs, who lead a decadent and obsolete way of life. The movie didn't make me care for any of the characters, want to learn more about them and what motivates them, or give any further attention to their boring tea parties, hunting trips or twisted relations with their butlers and maids.

At one point of the film I just began looking at my wrist watch, trying as hard as I can not to fall asleep, waiting for the promised murder mystery to occur so there would be some sort of force of interest to push the plot forward. After all, there is a certain degree of patience one can bare when staring helplessly at yawn-inducing characters talking about ever so boring issues. I felt as though the film was just going on and on with no real plot or point to look forward to at the end of the tunnel. When the foul felony finally took place, I was apathetic towards whatever was happening, that I couldn't care less. It was THAT bad.

Thankfully, I gave Altman another chance and really enjoyed A Prairie Home Companion, his final work before passing away. However, that still doesn't erase the fact that Gosford Park is one of the slowest, pointless, dullest, unsatisfying experiences I've had at the cinema. I'm usually into dramas, and I have an incredibly low bar of entertainment – even the most overused clichés in films tend to amuse me the slightest bit. Alas, Gosford park was just a step too far, even for my relatively low standards; as this now sits as one of the worst films I've seen of this decade to date.

I gave it a 1/10.
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a long bore
ckung8 February 2002
nice costumes, good performances, but an EXTREMELY long movie with an uncreative, unimaginative script. Really misrepresented as a 'mystery' when in fact that is the most trivial, inane thread of the movie. In short, a movie that is much, much less than the sum of its parts. Quite disappointing.
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Filmmakers in Service
tedg19 January 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Another Altman film about filmmaking. I wonder why so many people miss this.

Balaban is from an old film family and is among the more intellectual men in the business. Altman spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about the art and how he differs from others. And he does. Now you don't have to imagine what they talk about.

The conventional approach to high quality visual directing is for it all to emanate as a vision in the author and/or director's mind. The actors are expected to recreate that vision. So when a particularly strong image results, it is because the actor filled in the space in front of the camera. Think of this as actors in service to the director, the employer.

Altman is different in a fundamental way. He comes up with a vague sketch of a script: descriptions of characters and a situation. He allows the actors to find their own way. The result is often -- as here -- remarkably dense, taught, real. So much finer than can be filtered through several minds. Think of this as the director is service to the actors.

Here's where the upstairs/downstairs metaphor comes in.

Now think how Altman works with his camera. He has astonishing movement. His legendary reputation as a filmmaker rests primarily on his skill in adding to the effect of the scene by making our eye an active part of what is going on by placing lights and moving the camera. Hitchcock invented this notion, but then he is in that large group of directors who simply boss the actors about. Easy to place the camera right when you know where everything is going to be. But what if you don't? Then you have to be the perfect servant, understanding your masters so thoroughly that you can anticipate what they are going to do.

There you have the idea that Balaban and Altman first sketched. Now to make it highly self-referential, what do you do? You set a conventional murder mystery and actually place the filmmaker in the middle of the action, continuously commenting on how this is to be shaped. But he's completely ignorant, hence the references to formulaic Charlie Chan. The real solution would only be known by someone who understands this notion of anticipative service. Enhance the metaphor with notions of `children' from the upstairs through the wombs of the downstairs.

More: make it obvious that we are talking about the moving camera eye, so actually insert Ivor Novello in the action as `entertainment.' Ivor was in `The Lodger,' Hitchcock's first film where he used this `moving eye' style. His attunement to Ivor's movements (it is a silent film) was what was so remarkable at the time. Notice that Balaban doesn't `shoot.'

Altman is not a man of half measures, so make it even more self-referential: make one (only one) of the privileged guests disguise himself as a servant, to cross the line. You can't play on both teams.

This is not a film about manners, not a costume drama, not a whodunit. The story is about what it is: a film about the fluid, anticipative eye, in service to some of the most talented theatrical actors alive. The enjoyment in this film is not in watching the actors, pleasant though that is; it is in watching how we watch the actors and marveling at how our eye becomes part of the `team.'

Every actor here, every footman and scullery maid is a better actor than Julia Roberts, who incidentally shot Balaban in the throat in Mexico. Every actor except Ryan Phillippe. He's the white space, the reference point of bland American fare, intended to show us what bad acting is all about. Notice how staid the camera is when following him.

It is all heavy symbolism and would be the first thing commented on in a P T Andersen film. But not here. Now that's art.
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Brilliant Cast in Unfocused Story Ultimately Unsatisfying
paloma5416 April 2013
I know there are many fans of Robert Altman out there, mystifying though that is to me. I did somewhat enjoy Nashville, BUT, his particular style does not leave sufficient time or space on film to develop the characters in any depth, nor do we see any real growth.

I had a similar reaction to this film, but found Gosford Park even less satisfying, thanks to the very high hopes I had based on the writing of Julian Fellowes, which has been so magnificent in Downton Abbey, and on the sheer number of extremely talented actors/actresses in the cast. Sadly, all of this talent is wasted in this film. Mr. Altman seems not to have sufficient regard for his audience to feel that it is necessary to actually tell a story.

The result for me is a film which doesn't know what it wants to accomplish - will this be a rich, rewarding drama of lives affording us the opportunity to care about intriguing characters, or will this be a brain-teasing British mystery? Sadly, as a mystery it is an epic failure, since the murder in the story and its solution seem not to interest the filmmaker at all and none of it is really resolved. As a British drama, it also fails miserably, in that we don't really get much of the interactions of the characters to learn enough about them to be interested or to care what they do.

In fact, I will be forced to muddle through this film a second time (should I even waste my time?) merely to see which character goes with which name. There is no excuse for this sort of sloppiness, regardless of whether that is Robert Altman's personal style or not. Perhaps he just is an incompetent director? I would love to see this film remade with the same cast including an extra 30 minutes of screenplay written by good old J. Fellowes. As it now stands, it doesn't quite add up to a whole story.
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Worst movie of the year, at best. Bring an alarm clock.
neoguardian18 January 2002
The only movie I hated more than this film was Vanya on 42nd Street. The two are very much alike, except Vanya is American and this is British and has a semi-interesting environment. That's about the only good comment I can scrounge up about this wasted 2.5 hours of my life.

I'm generally patient and by no means a single-minded or immature action freak. I appreciate plot and most of all characters, but this film just didn't cut it for me in the least. I sat expectantly for about half an hour trying to make sense of the flash-by-flash relationship spaghetti, and once I did I spent the rest of the film not caring about any of it. Boring, insignificant soapish details, boring characters with very sporadic interjections of almost-funny humor that does nothing. Folks, I'm not a sadist or anything so don't take this the wrong way, but EVEN THE MURDER WAS BORING. As for plot, absolutely nothing happened in this film, even with a dead body present. The ending fell more flat than a week old soda, and throughout the film not so much as a spark toward any climax of any kind happened. Like Vanya, this is the kind of film that appeals very strongly to realist buffs and dullards, so if you aren't one of those, STAY AWAY. If you must, just visit your doctor and ask him for a few solid shots of ENNUI.
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rrb31 March 2007
Altman's kaleidoscopic storytelling can yield a masterpiece like Nashville, or the brilliantly raucous M*A*S*H. But what in those films was inspired chaos is, in Gosford Park, just chaos. And all the King's horses and all the King's men (to say nothing of the knights, ladies and other A-list British actors who mostly comprise the sterling cast) couldn't put Gosford together again.

The idea of creating one movie from several familiar English story lines no doubt seemed tasty to Altman and his collaborators Bob Balaban and Julian Fellowes. They set out to present a scathing examination of the upper class in that time-honored setting—a shooting party—using an Upstairs/Downstairs-style format, and encase it all in an Agatha Christie-esquire drawing room murder plot, with a John Cleese-y bumbling inspector thrown in for good measure. If this sounds like too much, it is. The movie is pulled in so many directions, it never gets anywhere. While some of the class satire is wickedly well done, the murder story is given perfunctory treatment. The subplots explaining why several none-too-suspicious suspects want the victim dead are so forgettable, and carelessly presented, you get the idea that Altman himself doesn't really care. The revelation of the real killer seems more an afterthought than a climax. And Stephen Fry's incongruous, idiotic investigator seems mistakenly edited in from another movie.

Trying to tell too many stories at once isn't the only problem afflicting Gosford Park. It also suffers from too many characters. While the many roles in Nashville were as deftly and distinctly drawn as Hirschfeld caricatures, Gosford is confusing in its superfluity of indistinguishable minor parts.

The frustrations noted are lightened by the many fine performances. Clive Owen, Eileen Atkins, Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren earn top honors, with honorable mentions to Kristen Scott Thomas, Jeremy Northram, Michael Gambon, Ryan Phillippe, Emily Watkins and Richard E. Grant. Alan Bates and Derek Jacobi are also on hand to ensure that Gosford Park offers the most spectacular cast assembled since Murder on the Orient Express.

All in all, not unenjoyable, but a very mixed bag.
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One of the best films I have ever seen
Humbert20024 July 2003
This film was captivating from beginning to end. The exemplary performances by a veritable who's who would certainly be enough, but the film is a complete package. Altman's impeccable directing knits this amazing cast into a true ensemble. The best of British cinema did the film for scale, and sat around on long shooting days because they wanted to. Add to this a realistic and beautiful English setting and a complex, riveting story, and you have a film that can't miss. Anyone who doesn't enjoy this movie should stick to low budget thrillers and cheap summer teenage trifles, because this is a film for those who can understand plot, character, and the human condition. BackStage West gave it Best Ensemble Cast. Highly recommended.
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Only the English can keep you captivated on 1 hour of foreplay
Leon Zap11 February 2016
I cannot believe how I was captivated, rewinding seconds I've missed 1 hr before the murder was committed. Normally I would have fast forwarded or Googled the synopsis. There was no useless actor. I mean if Clive Owen and Ryan Phillippe are reduced to valets, you know this is composed of heavy hitters.

The plot and hidden motives are so complicated. You need to watch this 2-3 times. Do not discount anyone and you may be lucky guessing whodunit before the detective arrived.

Also after watching it so many times, I still am confused where everything is. And I think being aware of the floor plan can help you guess early.

This is Downton Abbey meets Midsomer Murders. I have abandoned Agatha Christie type plots a while ago but I think i am making a comeback.
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We shall never find that lovely land of might-have-been.
tidwell856 September 2015
Jeremy Northam's voice instantly hypnotizes the cooks, maids, and footmen at Gosford Park. He lifts their spirits, they forget themselves, and for a moment all work ceases. The irony here is that because they're so entranced they fail to grasp the song's meaning, which is about hopeless longing and dreams unfulfilled. It puts smiles on their faces anyway, but has no effect at all on the upstairs guests, who spend so much energy posturing that they can't seem to recognize the value of any of the many graces offered to them. The downstairs staff certainly appreciates the entertainment, since they toil day and night over details like the distance between the knife and the fork, and whether strawberry marmalade will suffice when the raspberry jam runs out. 'The perfect servant has no life,' declares Mrs. Wilson, and while her pride is admirable, her sacrifice is tragic. What a shame, giving all of your time away to dote on people who don't themselves seem to know how to live, either.

The super wealthy can't be entirely blamed for their plight, which I think stems from loneliness. People tend to behave oddly around the rich and famous—they get nervous, begin putting on an act, or trying so hard not to that they clam up. Like a highway patrol cop in traffic, the presence of esteem inspires everyone close by to alter their behavior. It makes sense then that the rich prefer to surround themselves with hired help who are paid to behave respectfully rather than go out into the world and live their lives in public. Their wealth affords them the illusion of a public life in a private and controlled setting. The danger is that after spending years dealing primarily with one's own servants, one might become incapable of dealing with anyone else… even, say, an inspector who needs help solving a murder.

Consider the inspector's interactions with the guests. They treat him like the pizza delivery guy. They talk at him flippantly, begrudge him a moment for questioning, and fail to summon a shred of helpful information. This apparent insubordination is more out of apathy than defiance, and the inspector isn't blameless either. He treats witnesses with kid gloves, allows himself to be interrupted but never himself interrupts. I imagine that he would have more vigorously interrogated potential witnesses had the murder occurred in a poor or middle class district, but he behaves submissively when dealing with the guests at Gosford Park.

Attending a shooting party like this one is an exercise in straddling that line between intent and image. Image obscures intent, so it must be hard, being a wealthy host, to trust whether guests are attending out of true friendship. We, the audience, can certainly be sure that they are not because of the film's fly on the wall point of view. We quickly become aware of their disparate natures, that they only harmonize in their collective effort to remain in the good graces of Sir William. To open up to each other is to risk exposure or embarrassment, so distance is crucial to maintain a safe proximity. These aren't friends; these are satellites in tow. I makes sense, then, that when Sir William is killed and an inspector starts asking questions, no investigative headway is made. This is because as far as the guests are concerned, with Sir William gone there is no longer any need to engage. It's time to float away, like debris in outer space.

The idea of behavior obscuring motive is relatively foreign to Americans. I recently hosted an English traveler who needed a couch to crash on, and he told me that in English culture, protocol of behavior is of the utmost importance. "We can enslave entire cultures, but we'll do it with a stiff upper lip, while we have our afternoon tea," he said. I believe Americans tend to flaunt our motives more overtly, embody them. It's seen as a sign of virtue when a salesman embodies salesmanship, an athlete competition, a computer whiz nerd-dom. I feel (and this is pure conjecture) that to embody 'good manners' is valued but not to the degree that it is in Europe, particularly England. In America, we are almost suspicious of those whose intentions aren't clear. Consider the way characters in reality shows interact. Their behavior is motivated by primordial urges—chiefly, the urge to impose their personality. The line 'I'm not here to make friends' seems to be a reoccurring catchphrase. Gosford Park operates by almost opposing values: America's brand of 'reality' is best concealed so that the surface always appears squeaky clean. I would guess that even a non-English speaker, having spent a weekend with the casts of any of the new 'real world' shows, would walk away with a pretty good understanding of who those people are simply because the personalities are so unabashed. Yet I feel as though a fellow English speaker, even a thoughtful and aware individual, could spend a weekend at Gosford Park and walk away thinking only of how charming the affair was, but having no clue as to what was really going on.

Despite all of this I can't agree with the film's outlook, an outlook I would call altogether cynical. The alternative to the lifestyle of affluence is a lifestyle of needs-based living. For years I lived minimally, considering excess a burden and ambition a form of avarice, and you know maybe I wasn't wrong. But if we must rise with each new day, I don't see the harm in striving for some form of highness, even if illusory, as long as an attempt is made towards balance. This film is about the imbalance, the extremity of Postbellum English aristocracy. It emphasizes the evils and the folly that wealth and servitude cause without acknowledging that wealth is simply the end result of something inherently good. It doesn't express the reality that if we didn't posture whatsoever, we would be left crawling.
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