There’s nothing quite like a good old British countryside murder mystery, there is just something about a 1930s setting, murder, crumpets and the middle class. A weekend in the country brings together servants, Hollywood actors and producers, lords and ladies and for one guest, an untimely end.
Robert Altman assembled a fantastic British cast, Maggie Smith, Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, Michael Gambon, Tom Hollander, Richard E Grant, Bob Balaban and Kristen Scott Thomas to name but a few. Written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellows, it’s one part upstairs downstairs, one part whodunit and manages to be a carefully constructed dissection of the British class system as well as home to several outstanding performances.
It’s worth mentioning that Gosford Park is home to performances from two knights (Derek Jacobi and Michael Gambon), two dames (Eileen Atkins and Maggie Smith), and both Helen Mirren and Alan Bates would go on to be a knight and a dame respectively. Jude Law was originally cast as Henry Denton but had to drop out just before filming started and in stepped Ryan Phillippe
Like any good whodunit a large portion of the film focuses on the characters, establishing multiple-storylines and motives for murder. The pace might be indulgently slow, but this is an unfolding mystery that isn’t usually found in this genre; this only adds to the old fashioned feel to the movie beyond the period in time it is set in.
It’s been at least 6 years since I last saw this movie, and I had honestly forgotten just how much fun Gosford Park is. The tone is kept playful, the inclusion of Stephen Fry as the bumbling Inspector Thompson is a wonderful piece of misdirection casting. There are a few intense scenes and the last scene from the movie where the truth comes out, is an emotionally charged scene that the entire film rests on.
The cast are spot on, Jeremy Northam as matinee idol Ivor Novello might be the actor’s best work, Kelly Macdonald as Mary was frankly robbed of an Oscar, and rather typically Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith (who gets all the best lines) and Emily Watson all give flawless performances. There isn’t an off piece of casting and everybody gets their moment, no matter how brief.
Robert Altman was 77 when he directed this movie, and there’s no denying it’s the work of a seasoned professional. Unsurprisingly Gosford Park was one of the most commercial films of his esteemed career, lavished with awards and adored by critics. He might appear an unlikely director to bring such a British murder mystery to the big screen, but he proves more than up to the task. For many film lovers, Altman is the master of naturalistic cinema and it’s a title he has rightfully earned over the years.
What it lacks in thrills it makes up for by being a class act throughout and keeping its cards close to its chest. Pop the kettle on, have a slice of cake and enjoy 130 minutes of filmmaking at its finest. What what, pip pip.