Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Gosford Park - DVD review

Robert Altman's acclaimed and award-winning 2001 film Gosford Park is a whodunit that isn't really a whodunit. The first time I watched it, rather naively I focused on the whodunit aspect of the story and the plot, and found the film enjoyable but not quite the masterpiece it was supposed to be. Now I've taken another look at the DVD version, which includes some useful bonus features, and I'm even more impressed than I was originally.

Really, Altman took the idea of a Golden Age whodunit in a country house setting and used it as a context for a story about the class divide in the age of masters and servants. More or less everything is seen from the perspective of "below stairs", and the amateur detective work, such as it is, is undertaken by a servant. There's a lot of humour in Julian Fellowes' script, and there are many nice observations. I've never watched Downton Abbey, but there's no doubt he's a talented writer.

There is a large ensemble cast, and one of the doubts I had about the film originally is that this means that many of the characters are undeveloped. A large cast also makes it difficult to care about many of the suspects, and the plot of the story isn't its strong point, though there is a pleasing and inventive use of tropes such as the body in the library, the double killing, and impersonation.  Stephen Fry's police inspector is amusing but buffoonish, perhaps excessively so.

As for that cast - wow! Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith (in brilliantly waspish form as the Countess of Trentham), Kristin Scott Thomas, Charles Dance, Tom Hollander, Geraldine Somerville, Jeremy Northam (as Ivor Novello!), Helen Mirren, Kelly Macdonald, Laurence Fox, Alan Bates, Clive Owen, Derek Jacobi, Emily Watson, Eileen Atkins, Richard E. Grant...There's a lot of pleasure to be had from simply watching such stars in action. I can recommend this DVD; it's definitely a film worth watching more than once.

10 comments:

Nan said...

I've seen it a couple times, and I always expected to like it more than I did. I'm not too much of an Altman fan anyhow. Lots of people and chatter.

Art Taylor said...

Don't judge. I had to watch this one with subtitles....

Dean James said...

I've seen it only once, but I loved it for the look at the social divide, as you mention. The mystery was the skeleton (pardon the bad pun) to hand the story on, but the real story is the relationships and the class divide. Elegantly filmed and an amazing cast.

Art Taylor said...

I should've added that I was a big fan too. I admire Altman films generally and I found this this one fascinating in many ways, in part because such a departure for him in terms of setting. Need to watch it again now!

Martin Edwards said...

Nan, I did like it better second time around.

Martin Edwards said...

Art, great comment!

Martin Edwards said...

Dean, I very much agree.

TracyK said...

Very nice review. You put into words why I have loved this movie every time I have watched it. The emphasis on the class divide hidden within a mystery story. And the cast is wonderful. I agree that the police inspector is too buffoonish but I accepted this as a characterization sometimes used in older mysteries, although not my favorite. I like my inspector's intelligent or at least open minded.

Laura Pond said...

I saw this movie numerous times and loved it. I didn't know it was available in DVD format so I will look for it.

Unknown said...


"Stephen Fry's police inspector is amusing but buffoonish, perhaps excessively so." Not "perhaps", I'm afraid. I found his performance completely out-of-kilter with those of the rest of the cast. One of the strengths of the film was that unlike all too many Golden Age mysteries it didn't treat the below-stairs characters as at worst comic relief or at best well-worn cliches (kitchen maids having hysterics, throwing their aprons over their heads &c &c.). The working classes - including police officers who had risen through the ranks - had a damn sight more experience of the unpleasant side of life than their "betters"!
I remember reading that Altman was under a lot of stress while making this film, which may explain why he didn't realise that the inspector's role was mis-conceived.