The upperclass friends and relations of Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) arrive at his country house for a weekend of shooting, accompanied by maids, footmen, and valets, all of whom will be staying under one roof. Sir William is a mean-spirited and self-centered old man, married to a much younger, emotionally distant wife (Kristin Scott Thomas), with many family members dependent upon his continuing largesse. The hilariously waspish Countess of Trentham (Maggie Smith), who believes she has a lifetime stipend, arrives with young Mary Maceachran (Kelly MacDonald), who is trying valiantly to become a good lady's maid. Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam), a Hollywood star, and Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban), a producer of Charlie Chan movies, are the only guests without aristocratic backgrounds and inherited privilege. The atmosphere of the house, filled with venomous "friends" and relations, soon becomes even more poisonous.
The "below stairs" lives of the servants are also fully revealed, as they share living quarters, eat meals together, tend to the laundry and cooking, and gossip about their employers. The butler Jennings (Alan Bates) and the head housekeeper (Helen Mirren) run the household and try to guarantee that no real-world cares will intrude upon the lives of their employers. Since "upstairs" and "downstairs" occasionally meet very privately at night, secrets abound, many of them secrets of long standing. When Sir William is poisoned and stabbed ("Trust Sir William to be murdered twice"), nearly everyone has a motive for wanting him dead.
For director Robert Altman, the primary focus of the film is on the characters, their way of life, and their values, with the murder mystery secondary. Set in late November, the end of the year 1932, the action takes place when this secure aristocratic lifestyle is also nearing its end, something that the arrival of the newly rich Hollywood characters, Novello and Weissman, illustrates. Dramatic cinematography (by Andrew Dunn) emphasizes the cold and rainy dreariness of the weekend, and suggests parallels with the coldness of the dying aristocracy.
Interior shots reveal the contrasts between the elegant and mannered lives of the "upstairs" characters and the hardworking daily lives of the "downstairs" characters, who adhere to their own rigid social codes. Every detail seems true, and as the characters' lives and interrelationships are revealed obliquely in brief snippets of seemingly unrelated conversations, a broad picture of the upstairs and downstairs lifestyles gradually emerges. Fully developed, many-leveled, wonderfully acted, often funny, and impeccably directed and filmed, this is a film one can watch again and again with delight. Mary Whipple
on February 23, 2004
Well, strictly speaking he doesn't of course - Robert Altman never simply tags onto an established genre; he plays with it and makes it his own by turning it upside down. So, while the idea for "Gosford Park" may have been inspired by murder mysteries "Christie style" and by the likes of "Brideshead Revisited" and the BBC series about the Bellamy's Eaton Square household, we leave familiar territory the moment we enter the estate ... through the servants' entrance; for although large parts of the action take place "upstairs," it is manifestly told from a "downstairs" perspective.
Academy Award-winningly scripted by Julian Fellowes (himself a descendant of British nobility and therefore able to draw on manifold personal insights in creating the movie's characters), "Gosford Park" is primarily an examination of the unquestioningly accepted rules of the early 1930s' British class society: where, beset by primogeniture and a lifestyle often beyond their means, an aristocrat's daughters and younger sons were compelled to marry rich to maintain their expected standard of living - making a marriage for love much less desirable than one for money, even to a disliked spouse, and a marriage for love almost akin to a crime if not combined with wealth -; where servants were a necessary element of the aristocracy's life, even if largely treated as non-persons, banished to the basement and not even allowed to speak if not spoken to when called upstairs by virtue of their duties (notwithstanding the almost friendly relationship often existing between members of the two classes outside the public eye); where the perfect servant's existence was a life so unrealized that it often resulted in an overbearing interest in all aspects of his employer's life and in a precise emulation of the latter's prejudices, standards and pecking orders; where nevertheless domestic service was an important finishing school, especially for girls, frequently employed as early as at 12 or 14 years of age; where both "upstairs" and "downstairs" the greatest transgression against social etiquette was the causation of any kind of scene, as *nothing* was to be talked about as if it were truly important - requiring an immediate return to form if a breach of decorum had occurred after all - and where minute behavioral patterns such as a person's habits in pouring milk for his tea unfailingly exposed him as a member of one particular class, try as he might to associate himself with another. Yet, for all its observations, "Gosford Park" never judges: it takes each of its characters, and the entire unspoken "upstairs-downstairs" class arrangement at face value, leaving it up to its viewers to determine themselves what to make thereof.
The movie is named for the estate of Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and wife Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas), who have invited friends and family to that most English of all country sports events - a shooting party. And they have all come: Lady Sylvia's aunt Constance Trentham (Maggie Smith), her sisters Louisa and Lavinia with husbands Lord Stockbridge and Commander Meredith (Geraldine Somerville, Natasha Wightman, Charles Dance and Tom Hollander), the Nesbitts (James Wilby and Claudie Blakley) and last but not least (real-life) actor Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam, who also displays his outstanding vocal talent with several of Novello's songs), along with Hollywood director Morris Wiseman (Bob Balaban), in England for research on a projected "Charlie Chan" movie, and young Henry Denton (Ryan Philippe), whom Wiseman presents as his valet. Yet, while Novello is the hosts' halfheartedly-tolerated relative, Wiseman and Denton are instantly identified as outsiders: Not only are they American, but Wiseman is Jewish (and thus, implicitly socially suspect), a vegetarian (making him even more suspect for "fussing" over his food) and swears on the telephone; and Denton is quickly branded disingenuous by the servants, particularly Lady Constance's young maid Mary (Kelly Macdonald) and Lord Stockbridge's valet Robert Parks (Clive Owen), only to incur even greater wrath both upstairs and downstairs when the full measure of his deception becomes apparent.
Despised by his wife and aristocratic in-laws and also, for reasons of their own, by his own staff, primarily housekeeper Jane Wilson and cook Elizabeth Croft (Helen Mirren and Eileen Atkins), Sir William is found murdered after the second night's dinner. Enter Inspector Thompson (Stephen Fry) - and the movie's delicious survey gains another dimension, now also taking on the mystery genre; playing with it in "Charlie Chan" and "Pink Panther" fashion, with inept policemen, matching background music and cliches turned on their head, such as the obligatory assembly of all suspects, which here occurs at the investigation's beginning, not at its end.
While "Gosford Park"'s many awards are undoubtedly deserved, most fitting of all is its outstanding cast's SAG ensemble award; as all actors, including the late, great Alan Bates (butler Jennings), Derek Jacobi (Sir William's valet Probert), Richard E. Grant (first footman George) and Emily Watson (housemaid Elsie, Sir William's secret paramour and the only person grieving his death) put aside their claims to genuine starring roles in the interest of the ensemble's achievement. In addition to Robert Altman's, his son/production designer Stephen's and Julian Fellowes's painstaking attention to even the smallest set detail - including a king's ransom in tapestry and authentic vintage jewelry - and the counsel of several advisors with real-life service experience, all actors thoroughly researched the tenets of their roles; enabling them to respond in supreme fashion to Altman's preferred style of directing, which favors spontaneity, "mistakes" (often actually a movie's greatest moments), constantly moving cameras with shifting focus and overlaying, partly ad-libbed conversations over strict adherence to the script. The movie is jam-packed with information, each morsel provided only once; therefore, you not only should but actually must watch it several times to pick up on all the details you will necessarily miss initially. This is not a film for casual viewers, nor for fans of primarily plot-driven stories - but it is strongly recommended to those who appreciate delicate social comment and exquisitely-drawn characters.
The Shooting Party
Howards End - The Merchant Ivory Collection
The Remains of the Day (Special Edition)
Brideshead Revisited (25th Anniversary Collector's Edition)
Upstairs, Downstairs - Collector's Edition Megaset (The Complete Series plus Thomas and Sarah)
The Mysterious Affair at Styles: Hercule Poirot's First Case
Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Classic Collection
Sabotage and The Lodger
Ready to Wear
The Long Goodbye
on July 4, 2009
I've looked forward to seeing this wonderful film in Blu for the longest time. Now that I have it I have to say that the picture quality is not at all good--in fact, it looks no better than DVD does on a decent DVD player. Such an opportunity wasted. And, I find I must keep my standard def version of this disc because none--that's right NONE of the excellent and informative special features from the SD version are on the Blu-ray version. There are no special features at all!
This is a very underwhelming release of a best picture nominated film. It deserved better. I didn't know how many stars to give it, but I'll say 5 star film, 1 star picture quality, so I gave it 3 stars.
on December 15, 2002
The collector's edition DVD of Gosford Park provides comments by Altman and writer, Julian Fellowes as well as documentary on filming the film, out takes and filmography data. Fellowes comments, however, are wonderful insight to the history of English country house weekends, the arrogance of classism in British social history, as well as providing delightful rememberances of the author's own relations from whom he drew heavily developing his characters.
This is a film of seamless performances from every actor and underscores the strength of theatrical training in the British system over Hollywood's studio celebrity system. A little bit Agetha Christie, but not really, the story of a dismal weekend in the country is made all the better by Altman's direction, or ability to direct without interference in his actor's performances.
Stellar performances include Maggie Smith (Prime of Miss Jean Brody), delightful as the Countess without a pot to p*#s in, Michael Gambon (The Singing Detective), the victim of greedy in-laws and dog-haters, Jeremy Northam as Ivor Novello delivers blissful musical entertainment to guests and audience alike, Emily Watson (Metroland) demonstrates why she is one of the best young actors working today, and Helen Mirren and Clive Owen are mysterious players in the upstairs-downstairs dilemma. The depth of cast talent is akin to an archaeology dig, it just keeps getting better as time passes.
Gosford Park is a film that makes film watching a pleasure. In the hands of excellent players, a director who knows how to stage shots, and with a screen play that is both witty and informed, the audience can't loose. This is one of the best films of the year, it should be included in every film buff's library.
on April 18, 2012
First; let me say that I LOVE LOVE LOVE this film. Beginning with seeing it multiple times in the cinema upon it's initial release, to buying, listening to and appreciating the wonderful soundtrack CD to the film and opening up the world of Ivor Novello and his music to the unacquainted; to buying the DVD releases..needless to say I am a big fan.
That is why I am truly so saddened by this VERY anemic blu-ray release.
What do you have to look forward to on upgrading to blu-ray if you already own the standard DV releases? In my opinion..nothing. Zero. NOT even an improved picture quality I would say IN FACT, I would say the blu-ray release's print
in of less quality that DVD's.
Second: on the Blu-ray, you get NO SUBTITLE availability. NOTHING. And you DID get subtitles on the prior released DVDs.
Third: Audio- I am not sound engineering pro, barely fluent in some of the terminology, but then again, like many average viewers who aren't either, I would say that the playback levels on the blu-ray seemed lower. To be fair, there ARE options for choosing your audio presentation (the ONLY option on the entire Blu-ray by the way). Lastly, because this movie is a period piece (1930's) and because of the very tone, era, subject matter and so on, this film is just about entirely bereft of any types of special effects, the presence of which..in a "larger that life" cinema world of today which demands explosions, machine sounds, and so on, the audio level here is pretty much that for the entire film..level.
Fourth and Fifth: Commentaries and Special Features (documentaries/interviews/etc)..simply..the standard DVD has 2 commentary tracks and a few Gosford Park special presentations..the blu-ray has NONE
FINAL Thought on the Blu-ray: DON'T BOTHER; stay with the standard DVD releases
Take an 'idea' by Bob Balaban and Robert Altman, transform that idea into a screenplay by Julian Fellowes, place Robert Altman in the director's chair, and gather many of the finest actors in England (and the USA), photograph it with Andrew Dunn as cinematographer, and assign the musical score to Patrick Doyle and presto! - out comes a bubbling movie that entertains on every level and makes a lot of statements about class distinction and other prejudices as well. GOSFORD PARK is a gem of a film and only grows better with repeated viewings.
Gosford Park is the estate owned by grumpy William McCordle (Michael Gambon) who has a way of distancing most everyone he encounters, his bored wife Sylvia (Kristen Scott Thomas), his frumpy daughter Isobel (Camilla Rutherford), and served by a staff of servants who include the very in control Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren), the butler Jennings (Alan Bates), and the head of the kitchen Mrs. Croft (Eileen Atkins). A weekend hunting party is underway and as the guests arrive the dichotomy between the wealthy and the serving class is emphasized. Among the odd assortment of guests (each with a pack of secrets and prejudices) are Maggie Smith, Tom Hollander, Charles Dance, Bob Balaban, Jeremy Northam, James Wilby, and their valets and servants Clive Owen, Kelly Macdonald, Ryan Phillippe, etc. The servants are incorporated into the staff rooms by the strange Emily Watson, Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Swift et al. The arrival evening drops a few hints of problems afoot both among the guests and among the servants. The hunting party is scarred by a minor accident, but the real problem occurs at the dinner following the hunting party - a time when some of the occult problems become more obvious and culminate in the murder of the vile William McCordle. The police are called and Inspector Thompson (Stephen Fry) uncovers some strange evidence that leads to not only the events of the murder but also unveils many of the secrets of both guests and servants. There is a surprise ending that somehow makes all of the characters seem more human than their artificial roles they have assumed.
This is a banquet of fine acting and ensemble work and adds such treasures as a series of songs performed by Jeremy Northam with great style as well as unexpected cameos by a large number of lesser-known actors. It is a fine mystery, Altman style, and is as frothy and refreshing as fine champagne! Grady Harp, April 08
on April 4, 2002
In Gosford Park Robert Altman sets himself an almost impossible task, and pulls off what might be The Perfect Movie. This one has it all: drama (both high and low) and comedy, sex and violence, incredible beauty and vile human ugliness. It has a script that one would think some mid-level executive in Hollywood would have squashed as being more story than could be told in two-plus hours, and it probably needed a Robert Altman both to get the green light for the project in the first place and then to actually pull it off.
The setting is a large British country house in the '30s, and the plot centers around the house residents and several wealthy guests and all their servants at the house for a weekend of hunting. Immediately the house is divided between the nobles and the servants, and much of the next two hours' interplay involves this distinct class difference. The guests interact with the house residents and the other guests, while the visiting servants are accommodated by the butler and head housekeeper and head chef of the house. The nobles come downstairs occasionally to give instructions, and the servants are quitely everywhere as the nobles discuss all their dirty little secrets (and make some new ones). All the doings upstairs are duly scrutinized and analyzed by the servant corps, and alliances are formed and fall as events unfold.
This all requires a very large cast (and he could not possibly have cast better--there are too many standouts to mention) but Altman begins with Maggie Smith and her maid and driver, to set the tone and to introduce a pivotal character, and also to ease us into what will shortly be a very hectic scene. We meet a few others as she makes her journey, and she arrives at the house to join the fray. Each character plays a vital part in what begins as a huge and confusing puzzle, and each little story and subplot is essential to the fabulous, three-dimensional whole that is, almost miraculously, birthed at the end.
But that intricacy places some demands on the viewer; indeed, the most common criticism I've seen is from viewers who wander innocently into the fray and never find their way back out. It's a movie that requires rapt attention at all times, but it rewards us by leaving us stunned and breathless not for the body count or special effects but simply for the sheer virtuosity of the story-telling. That he actually pulls it all together in the end is a bit like watching a vaudeville juggler who keeps 18 plates spinning while singing an opera aria and balancing on a beach ball with one foot: you're convinced A) that it can't be done, and B) that even if it CAN be done it won't be accomplished this time! The first time I saw it I was wowed but left the theater still wondering about a couple of the characters. The second time it made much more sense, but I think there are discoveries aplenty to be made by further viewings (which will have to wait for the DVD)!
Movies are about story-telling, and about the human beings in those stories. No special effects budget can take the place of great writing, or of a substantial idea well-executed. But maybe if movies like this are becoming rarer (though it's been a good year for movies) it makes one like Gosford Park stand out from the hail of bullets and reminds us what great story-telling really is.
on April 2, 2012
This review is of the Blu-Ray disc and not of the movie itself. I liked Gosford Park so much that I ordered the Blu-Ray copy. I ran the Blu-Ray disc on a 37 inch HD screen and it looked OK. I also have a HD projector and 80 inch screen. Every movie and every TV show in Blu-Ray that I have shown on the 80 inch screen have looked extremely sharp and clear. Not this disc. It looked soft and almost out of focus. The company that did the transfer obviously felt nobody who bought this disc would have a large screen TV. This Blu-Ray dics actually looked worse than some standard DVDs upscaled to 1080p. Also there were NO SUBTITLES. Every DVD of movies and TV shows that I have ever bought has subtitles. It is a standard feature. Buying a DVD without subtitles is like buying an automobile without seats. Also none of the extra features that were on the regular DVD were on this Blu-Ray copy. The Blu-Ray manufacturer, Alliance (Canada), is a disgrace for releasing such a joke of a Blu-Ray DVD. Maybe they buy cars without seats.
on May 4, 2002
Before I saw Gosford Park, many people kept telling me how complicated it got and that it was simply impossible to follow. I walked into the theater promising myself I would not be confused or at all dazed by this movie...I found it not to be a difficult goal to set. This movie had a large cast of characters, but was beautifully set up, leaving us with clear-cut suspects, reasons and times in which they would have killed the victim. But the murder is not even the beginning of the intricate plot, there are relationships between people that appear to be one thing, but turn to be totally different. As the truth was slowly revealed to us audience members, there was more than one *gasp*. The best kind of mystery, is that which sets things up so well and clearly that theoretically you could figure it out on your own, but don't until they want you to. Gosford Park is by far one of the best movies of 2001, and one of the most enjoyable murder mysteries I have seen.
The acting, direction, costuming, sets, script...everything are flawless. I highly recommend it.
on November 1, 2005
Gosford Park is a big English country house in the early 1930s. It is inhabited by William McCordle (Michael Gambon), his wife Sylvia (Kristen Scott-Thomas) and their daughter Isobel (Camilla Rutherford). William and Sylvia's not very happy marriage is a fairly flagrant exchange of financial prosperity for social standing as prior to it she was immensely posh but broke, while he was not posh at all but extremely rich thanks to the factories he owns. They are hosting a weekend social gathering to do a spot of shooting and have invited mainly her relatives, his being presumably too common. The exception is his cousin Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) who belongs to the new Hollywood aristocracy (not that that cuts much social ice hereabouts - the servants are overawed, their masters sniffy) and his film director friend from Hollywood Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban) who has got himself invited along with a view to researching a planned movie about toffs together with the later's valet Henry Denton (Ryan Phillippe). Also along are Sylvia's sister Louisa Stocksbridge (Geraldine Somerville) accompanied by her arrogantly patrician war hero husband Raymond (Charles Dance) and his valet Robert Parks (Clive Owen); her other sister Lavinia (Natasha Wightman) rather less successfully married off to the weak and financially straightened Anthony (Tom Hollander) who is as desperate to get William to invest in his schemes for a boot factory in the Sudan as William is determined to do no such thing; her nephew Freddie Nesbit who is also in dire straits for money and divides his time between sucking up to William in the hope of being offered employment and bullying his wife Mabel (Caudie Blakely), who has also been married for her money, but having had less that was hoped, is now treated with merciless scorn and contempt; Sylvia's stingy and supercilious aunt Constance Trentham (Maggie Smith) and her maid Mary MacCeachran (Kelly MacDonald). That's about it upstairs about from a couple of additional young fellows Lord Rupert Standish (Laurence Fox) and Jeremy Blond (Trent Ford) who show up late and never really integrate successfully into either the social gathering or the film except that the former seems to have his eye on Isobel or at least what she stands to inherit inheritance.
You might perhaps think that was already complicated enough. But in the meantime Parks and Maceachran arrive downstairs to find themselves in the midst of a huge army of servants presided over by housekeeper Mrs Wilson (Helen Mirren) and alcoholic butler Jennings (Alan Bates) prominent among whom are head cook Mrs Croft (Eileen Atkins); head housemaid (and William's mistress), Elsie (Emily Watson), William's valet Probert (Derek Jacobi), the lecherous footman George (Richard E. Grant) and the nymphomaniac kitchen maid Dorothy (Sophie Thompson). All this huge array of people mingle, gossip, intrigue their way though an evening and the following day until, the second evening, Sir William turns up murdered in his study, bringing the law onto the scene in the form of the drolly moronic Inspector Thompson (Stephen Fry) and his rather less dimwitted underling Constable Dexter (Ron Webster).
Smith, Mirren, Gambon, Scott-Thomas, Jacobi, Bates, Dance, Watson, Grant, Atkins, Fry... Some cast. The British film A-list is very bit as talented as their American counterparts but, sadly for them, an awful lot less expensive, to the point where it is possible for a movie such as this to simply buy them all up as a huge job lot. All are perfectly cast and superb with the exception I fear of Fry whose bumbling clod of an Inspector is mildly amusing but completely unbelievable and belongs in a very different, less serious and naturalistic sort of comedy than is this: like Geraldine Chalplin in 'Nashville' he is the comic touch that doesn't really work. In such a sprawling typically Altmanesque ensemble piece it should be impossible for any actor to dominate but happily no one has explained this to Maggie Smith whose magnificently funny performance effortlessly steal the movie.
It's a hugely enjoyable movie superbly put together. Altman has much with age. It lacks the satirical savagery of a `Nashville' or a `Short Cuts' and a clearly deeply critical take on the puffery, snobbery and often terrible cruelty of this ferociously hierarchical class system is tempered and slightly undermined by a slight but definitely perceptible unmistakeable nostalgic sneaking regard for this nice stable ordered but clearly dying world where everybody knew where they belonged and (mostly) stayed there. So it's an at once contemptuous and affectionate, despairing and humane picture of a bunch of toffs and their servants in the years between the wars with a scene in the middle where they all go off shooting birds in the local woods: it's certainly natural to suppose all this involves considerably more than a nodding glance back to Renoir's `Rules of the Game'. If that is Altman's model of course he hasn't matched it but he's nonetheless made a richly intricate, intelligent and highly enjoyable film.