Gosford Park is a 2001 British film directed by Robert Altman. It received an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and is rated R for some language and brief sexuality.
Taking place in 1932, it features a party at the country manor of William (Michael Gambon) and Sylvia (Kristin Scott-Thomas) McCordle. The guests arrive for a weekend of hunting, each accompanied by a valet or maid. This was a time in Britain when the classes were quite distinctly separated in terms of wealth and servitude. Not exactly American slavery in the pre-civil war days, but it had its own disgusting over- and undertones to it as depicted in the film.
The cast is divided into the upstairs guests, and the downstairs servants. Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren) meticulously runs every aspect of the servants’ work. Her sister also works in the manor, as does the sister’s husband. Elsie (Emily Watson) is an outspoken servant, warming to a visiting maid Mary (Kelly Macdonald). Robert Parks (Clive Owen) enters the picture as the valet of a guest, and the other residents of this mansion do not ignore his good looks.
The trailer suggests that someone will be murdered during this film, and thus it is a whodunit, with clues sprinkled liberally throughout. Missing knives, bottles of poison, and lots of motives to do any number of people in, both within the guests as well as for the servants milling about trying to do their job to their employer’s satisfaction.
Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban) is a Hollywood exec invited to the hunting weekend, and he brings his valet, a curious Scotsman, Henry Denton (Ryan Phillippe). Sexual dalliances in the house are common, and the upper class doesn’t seem to be any better off really than the lowly servants, financially that is.
A Hollywood star Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) provides welcome relief as he plays the piano and sings. William’s aunt Constance (Maggie Smith) is a real shrew, very disdainful to the other guests, and goes about with such an air of entitlement that perhaps only Maggie Smith could pull it off (and she did). The grounds where they go pheasant hunting are quite beautiful. You can almost feel the rain and dampness that permeates the poorly heated mansion.
Basically, I liked this film. Robert Altman directed the weaving of these disparate lives together very well. I wondered how he could keep track of all the different scenes, as the action travels upstairs and downstairs to give us a feel for who all the characters are, setting the stage for the murder that comes well after an hour into the film.
Who did it? I can’t say much more here as no spoilers will pass my lips. How do all the players fit together? You will need to see for yourself. It is a well-written and filmed murder mystery, not launching prematurely, but allowing us to see what this culture was like. If you’re an Anglophile, or a Maggie Smith fan, definitely watch Gosford Park.