Gosford Park (2001, Helen Mirren, Clive Owen)

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R 137 min - Drama, Mystery, Thriller - 7 November 2001
Our rating:

Robert Altman is known for his ensemble films, but with Gosford Park he has taken things to a new level with an exhaustive and illustrious cast list that would be shorter if it simply named all those actors in Britain who weren't involved. With the film running two and half hours, all are used to good, if brief, effect in this period thriller that is a cross between Upstairs Downstairs and an Agatha Christie murder mystery. Gosford Park is an engaging if over populated drama that feels more like a condensed TV mini-series than a feature film.

Americans seem even more obsessed with the British class system than the British and so it's only a little surprising that the idea for Gosford Park came from the American director and fellow countryman Bob Balaban, best known for his portrayal of NBC executive Russell Dalrymple in Seinfeld. The film explores with equal parts fascination and humour, the strict rules of etiquette and protocol that governed life in England's stately homes during the early part of the last century.

Gosford Park is the country estate of the philandering Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and his long-suffering wife Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas). Following an invitation for friends and relatives to join them for a weekend of shooting, the film begins with the arrival of the various guests and their servants. With so many characters to become acquainted with, much of the early gossip amongst staff and guests is difficult to disseminate. But slowly the identities become clear, none more so than the curmudgeonly Constance, played with wicked glee by Maggie Smith, who takes great pleasure in belittling the esteemed actor Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) and his Hollywood producer friend Morris Weisman (Bob Balaban), who is their doing research for his next movie.

Below stairs things are run by Jennings (Alan Bates), the redoubtable Mrs Wilson (Helen Mirren) and her rival, Mrs Croft (Eileen Atkins), all of whom hold more respect for their positions than those they serve. Allegiances and conflicts are established so that when someone is murdered, there are plenty of suspects if little evidence, certainly none that is of help to the bumbling Inspector Thompson (Stephen Fry).

Gosford Park provides an amusing if broad take on life amongst the privileged, tempered with some poignant moments. What lends it more weight than it would ordinarily command are the sterling performances by the large cast who do their best not to upstage one another while endeavouring to create something from their brief turn in the spotlight.

Director:  Robert Altman
Writers:  Julian Fellowes
Producer:  Bob Balaban, Robert Altman, David Levy, Joshua Astrachan, Jane Frazer, Julian Fellowes
Composer:  Patrick Doyle
Director of Photography:  Andrew Dunn

Production Details

Production Companies:  USA Films

Release Date:  7 November 2001

Running Time:  2 h 17 min

Genres: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Language:  English

Tagline: Tea at four. Dinner at eight. Murder at midnight.

Budget and Box Office takings where known

Budget:  $19,800,000
Revenue:  $87,754,044