Kristin Scott Thomas
Richard E Grant
Masterpiece Theater meets M*A*S*H in Robert Altman’swinning new comedy/drama Gosford Park. A dream of an ensemble cast,Altman’s assured, fluid directing and a smart screenplay by Julian Fellowesmake for an irresistible time at the movies for adults, one that demands arepeat viewing.
It is November 1932. Gosford Park is the magnificent British countryestate to which Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and his wife, LadySylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas), gather relations and friends for a shootingparty. They have invited an eclectic group including a countess, a World WarI hero, the British matinee idol, and an American film producer who makesCharlie Chan movies.
As the guests assemble in the gilded drawing roomsabove, their personal maids and valets swell the ranks of the house servantsin the teeming kitchens and corridors below-stairs.
But all is not as itseems: neither amongst the bejeweled guests lunching and dining at theirconsiderable leisure, nor in the attic bedrooms and stark work stationswhere the servants labor for the comfort of their employers.
Gosford Park has about two-dozen characters and just as manysubplots, including a whodunit in the third act. In the hands of a directorwho has had less experience with such large casts and myriad storylines,this could have spelled big-time trouble. Thankfully, Robert Altman has hadsome experience with this genre of film. After all, this is the manresponsible for such classics as Nashville, ThePlayer,Short Cuts and M*A*S*H that is calling the shotsbehind the camera here.
For the viewer, this means we can sit back andrelax, knowing we are in the company of a professional. Altman’s directingis both confident and elegant, seamlessly flowing from story to story andcharacter to character without missing a beat. By bringing out the best inboth his cast and Julian Fellowes’ intricate, biting and intelligentscreenplay, Gosford Park is Altman’s best work since ThePlayer.
As for that cast, I’ll cut right to the chase and say that there isn’t abad performance to be had here. Among the standouts of this golden ensemble:Maggie Smith as Constance, a sharp-tongued Countess, Kelly MacDonald, EmilyWatson, Helen Mirren and Clive Owen as various members of staff to both thehouse and guests and Stephen Fry, who steals every scene he’s in as therather bumbling Inspector Thompson, sent by Scotland Yard to investigate themurder. In a movie year that saw a bumper crop of great ensemble acting inits second half, this group stands tall above the rest.
You may need a second viewing to sort out all of the people and events ofGosford Park, but you will only need the initial one to be won over.Given the rich dialogue from an award-worthy screenplay that matches thefilm’s golden batch of actors, you may not want to stop there.