Gosford Park (2001), Cert 15.

Director - Robert Altman.

Writer - Bob Balaban.

Starring - Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Kristen Scott Thomas, Charles Dance, Jeremy Northan, Ryan Phillippe, Stephen Fry, Clive Owen, Kelly McDonald, Helen Mirren, Emily Watson & Richard E. Grant.

Premise - England, 1932 and Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) is holding a shooting weekend at his country manor. The invited include his many family members and in-laws and other assorted aristocrats. The weekend is going as planned, but when a murder is committed, it seems most everyone in the manor has a motive.

I've been putting off seeing this one for weeks, various reports of its long running time and boring nature meant that I was in no hurry to see the film. Couple this with the fact that I am no fan of Robert Altman as a filmmaker and the pile of dust on the DVD was considerable when I finally decided to give it a go.

So it's with some surprise that I found Gosford Park to be quite an enjoyable movie, nothing stunning, but certainly much better than I expected it to be. I have little or no knowledge of how the class system worked in this country in the early 20th century, so I found Gosford Park a bit of an eye opener in that respect. Seeing how the servants were treated by their employers was almost like a little history lesson for me.

One of the main reasons I liked the film was the interaction of the various characters. The way the 'downstairs' and upstairs' folk interacted was very interesting, but also the way they interacted with there own sort was intriguing for me. Both societies acted in exactly the same manner when with their own kind. Gossip, bitching and sex amongst others were frequently employed by both sets of class.

Of course the main reason these interactions were so enjoyable was because of the delightful ensemble cast. If there's one thing that Altman can bring to a movie, it's a stunning cast. Gosford Park is no exception. Filled to the brim with the cream of the British acting community the standard of performance is beyond reproach. Everyone is at the top of the game with too many names to mention here. There were one or two standouts for my money however.

Emily Watson is an actress I could watch forever, it just seems to come to her so naturally. She plays a maid with something of a dark secret. Clive 'should be the next James Bond' Owen's character also has a dark secret (this seemed to be the running theme for the film). I haven't seen him in anything since the excellent ‘Croupier’; I will have to search out more of his work as he is an outstanding actor.

Kelly McDonald has what could be described as the main role in the film. Her role as Maggie Smith's (whom is also excellent) maid means that she is privy to information from both upstairs and downstairs. She is the glue that holds the film together. Simply an excellent performance from the young actress whom seems to have been in hiding since her debut in 'Trainspotting' all those years ago.

Upstairs I was most impressed by the irrepressible Michael Gambon as the owner of the manor. He is perfectly suited to this sort of oafish snob. I also enjoyed Kristen Scott Thomas as Gambon's wife; she likes a bit of rough and puts it about a bit over the weekend. Real life writer/musician Ivor Novello is portrayed in the movie and the actor that played him (Jeremy Northan) is another that impressed me.

The two Americans in the film Bob Balaban and Ryan Phillipe both do ok, with Balaban's Hollywood producer providing some of the films funniest moments. Phillipe gives one of the worst Scottish accents in the history of cinema, but it works given the context of his character and a revelation later in the film.

One thing I certainly didn't expect from Gosford Park was comedy, but the film surprised me. Whilst it's not bust-a-gut funny, I found it to be quite amusing in parts. As I said Balaban's Producer character was amusing, but also Maggie Smith and Stephen Fry provided me with some amusement.

The introduction of Stephen Fry's police inspector also unfortunately signals the point where the movie starts to go downhill. When Altman introduces an ill judged 'whodunit' element to the film, the focus moves from the interactions of the 'upstairs' and 'downstairs' and moves to a less enthralling police investigation. I guess it was required to move the film along and provide some closure for many of the characters, but frankly I could have done without it.

The film won an Oscar for its script which surprised me slightly. Yes, the characters interact well, but I found the dialogue to be quite clunky at times. The standard of the acting saved the script from completely ruining the film, but it was annoying.

Gosford Park was a real surprise for me, a film that I really quite enjoyed. If only Altman had not gone with the tacked on 'whodunit' ending then this would have been quite a high recommendation. As it stands it's worth seeking out.


6/10 for Gosford Park.

Poster Quote - Park it.