Gosford Park (2001)

Film review: Gosford Park (2001), directed by Robert Altman

gosfordparkI remember trying to watch this film a few years ago – primarily because of Tom Hollander, I think – but just couldn’t get into it and gave up. Well, considering the star-studded cast and that it’s written by Julian Fellowes and is, in a way, a precursor to Downton Abbey, I was eager to give it another go.

It is an upstairs/downstairs affair. Upstairs, there’s a house party hosted by William McCordle (Michael Gambon). Plenty of upstairs guests hobnobbing with each other. Downstairs, the servants are making sure the household runs smoothly.

And then there’s a murder. Who committed it, and why? It goes from Downton Abbey to Cluedo, and it’s not actually dull at all.

Starring (I can’t begin to remember who’s who because the cast is just SO HUGE): Maggie Smith as Constance Trentham, Kristin Scott Thomas as Sylvia McCordle, Camilla Rutherford as Isobel McCordle, Charles Dance as Lord Raymond Stockbridge, Geraldine Somerville as Louisa Stockbridge, Tom Hollander as Anthony Meredith, Natasha Wightman as Lavinia Meredith, Jeremy Northam as Ivor Novello, Bob Balaban as Morris Weissman, James Wilby as Freddie Nesbitt, Claudie Blakley as Mabel Nesbitt, Laurence Fox as Rupert Standish, Trent Ford as Jeremy Blond, Ryan Phillippe as Henry Denton, Stephen Fry as Inspector Thompson, Ron Webster as Constable Dexter, Kelly Macdonald as Mary Maceachran, Clive Owen as Robert Parks, Helen Mirren as Mrs Wilson, Eileen Atkins as Mrs Croft, Emily Watson as Elsie, Alan Bates as Jennings, Derek Jacobi as Probert, Richard E Grant as George, Sophie Thompson as Dorothy, Meg Wynn Owen as Lewis, Adrian Scarborough as Barnes, Lucy Cohu as Lottie, and Leo Bill as Jim. PHEW!

These days, it’s inevitable that Gosford Park will be compared with Downton Abbey. (Just look at the names of the characters, c’mon!) If you’re playing the game of translating the downstairs staff into their Downton counterparts, you’ll have fun. And why not? Set in similar time periods, about similar things, written by the same person, of course there will be similarities. Maggie Smith is in both, and she’s terrific.

Gosford Park is a veritable who’s who of acclaimed British actors, and they work really well as an ensemble. If you like your Agatha Christie adaptations, this should be right up your alley too. Speaking of detectives, I seem to recall Stephen Fry’s policeman thoroughly amusing. There should be a murder at Downton Abbey with Inspector Thompson coming around, that would be awesome.

It’s not a fast-paced film, really, and it’s mostly about people standing around talking, so yes, I can see why I first found it boring. Then again, that was before I became hooked on Downton Abbey, so if you’re into that kind of period drama anyway, the standing around talking thing, you won’t notice, and you certainly won’t care about it.

4 out of 5 pen knives.

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