the fresh films reviews

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Gosford Park (2001)

Robert Altman



Gosford Park

137 minutes

Julian Fellowes
Based on an idea by:
Robert Altman
Bob Balaban

Cast includes:

Constance, Countess of Trentham Maggie Smith
Sir William McCordle Michael Gambon ½
Lady Sylvia McCordle Kristin Scott Thomas ½
Raymond, Baron Stockbridge Charles Dance
Louisa, Baroness Stockbridge Geraldine Somerville
Ivor Novello Jeremy Northam ½
Mr. Morris Weissman Bob Balaban
Mr. Henry Denton Ryan Phillippe
Inspector Thompson Stephen Fry ½
Mary Maceachran Kelly Macdonald
Robert Parks Clive Owen
Mrs. Jane Wilson Helen Mirren ½
Mrs. Elizabeth Croft Eileen Atkins ½
Elsie Emily Watson ½
Mrs. Jennings Alan Bates
Mr. Probert Derek Jacobi
George Richard E. Grant ½



In the 1930s England, the upper class McCordle-family is having a weekend shooting party for their fellow aristocrats at their countryside mansion. The guests arrive accompanied by each their personal servant, and they are all doing their best to fit into their strictly cut social roles. The lords, ladies and sirs are being placed in luxury rooms upstairs, while their servants are firmly being consigned to the far more primitive ground floor quarters. As the dinner is being served the first night, the guests are all busy being as correct as possible, but as the weekend unfolds, we grasp that just beneath the surface things might not be so correct after all…



The American veteran director Robert Altman has always been devoted to making movies that focus on character before plot, and situation before sensation. Gosford Park is no exception. The audience is being thrown into the story, and left to figure out character relations for themselves. And, as usual, Altman applies a lot of them. What is good about this is how it allows the movie to subtly conceal its mysteries. What is not so good is how Altman never really is able to give all his characters relevance, and as we approach the latter part of the film, we realize it won’t be able to tie up all its loose ends. 

Although the mysteries grow increasingly captivating as the movie progresses, Gosford Park is just as much a portrait of the classic post-industrial revolution class struggle in Great Britain. Altman has an amusing view on the everlasting correctness these people live by – as if he is satirizing it, but at the same time is ultimately fascinated by it. There is hardly a scene in Gosford Park where what the characters are doing as opposed to what they were actually supposed to be doing, goes by uncommented by the other characters. And there is also hardly a scene in the movie where the “people upstairs” are being left to themselves without a servant, a waiter or a maid to assist them. This is arguably all Altman’s implicit comedy, as he attempts to weave a social class drama into a classic Agatha Christie-style crime story. Despite many interesting observations and character relations, he doesn't quite succeed. 

In diminishing a lot of the characters and their stories in the latter part of the movie, the viewer is left with a feeling of being deceived. Altman doesn’t let us fully understand with which characters the movie’s main storyline lay until the very ending, thus undermining a lot of the other characters' significance. We quite early understand that the Weissman- and Novello characters are included merely for comedic purposes (and possibly to give lightweight American audiences something to put their interest in), but others, like the George character or the Mr. Jennings character seem to be carrying secrets and purposes that are never revealed. It is always very difficult including this amount of characters in a fictional movie. To weave it all together without being trivial, will be absolutely crucial. Gosford Park isn’t quite up to this task.

Copyright © 13.10.2002 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang