The premise for Gosford Park is pretty straightforward, although the relationships between the characters are anything but. Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and Lady Sylvia McCordle (Kristin Scott Thomas) are entertaining for the weekend. Their extended family and their servants all descend on Gosford Park for a few days of prim-and-proper 1930s British etiquette and dinners. The servants defer to the needs of their masters, and the masters defer to Sir William, who has more than a few family members dependent on his generosity for their income. Sir William, though, has had enough with generosity and plans to cut off a few needy family members. The lives of the wealthy are not just their own, though; many among the help have intimate (read: sexy) knowledge of the masters. With all the secret sexiness and financial desperation in the air, it is not a huge surprise that Sir William is found stabbed at his desk, at a time when almost anyone could have slipped away and done the deed. It is a surprise when it is revealed that the stab was not the cause of death; someone else had killed Sir William, before he could be murdered by someone else.
|Lower left: the look of a man who finds out there is a line to murder him|
The cast of Gosford Park is large and ridiculously noteworthy; the ensemble is so large, in fact, that it is difficult to gauge the acting quality for most of the cast.
|It is, almost but not at all literally, a cast of thousands|
There is just a crap ton of actors in this movie, and a surprising few made a lasting impression on me. I haven't seen many of Robert Altman's films (please don't recommend The Player to me, it makes my eyes roll more than a teenage girl talking to her mother), but I know he likes to play with large, well-known casts. I thought that worked in his favor in Gosford Park. Really, the biggest problem with movie mysteries is that the audience knows that certain actors are destined to have important roles because they are well-known. Having such a big cast, filled with recognizable actors makes both the victim and killer a lot more surprising. As far as the standard pillars I judge directors by (cinematography, editing, cohesive storytelling, and actor-handling), Altman is fine, although nothing fantastic. Instead, he focused on adding layers of nuance to this film. Yes, it's a murder mystery, but it is also as much about the British class system as my favorite Pulp album. And that class commentary invites a lot of moments for subtle humor, although I wouldn't qualify this as a comedy. Still, Altman takes a pretty simple idea and makes it enjoyably complex.
|But not enjoyable for everyone|
For such a clever work of direction, I was not terribly impressed with the story. Altman and Balaban come up with the general story, but I found it surprisingly predictable. Normally, I would be disappointed by that --- I immediately called Ryan Phillipe's secret and figured out Clive Owen's rather quickly --- but there was thankfully an extra twist to keep things interesting. Still, I was hoping for this movie to take the mystery part a little more seriously. If it feels like Altman is just using the mystery plot as an excuse to delve into the cultural politics of the British class system pre-World War II, that's because he is. I really don't mind the subterfuge, but I wish I had gone in knowing that, because I was looking forward to the whodunnit.
I think I appreciate Gosford Park for what it is, but it didn't blow me away. I didn't see any stellar performances or find myself shocked or appalled by any of the characters. The plot was decent, but not great. The commentary, while occasionally funny, was not as sharp as I would have expected, especially given current views on servitude, homosexuality, empowerment, and romance.
|1930s view: Scandalous! 2012 view: Where'd his fist go?|
And here's my favorite song about class warfare, from Pulp's Different Class: