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Tuesday, June 4, 2019

"Gosford Park" (2001)

Director Robert Altman and screenwriter Julian Fellowes take all the tropes of a classic 1930's whodunit mystery and turn them inside out. A weekend at a huge estate in the British countryside. An assortment of monied guests and house staff. A murder in the library. A trench coated detective. Red herrings. Witty dialog. Tuxedos and evening gowns. It's all here...but it's all beside the point. This is really an exploration of class distinctions and what happens when they mix and inevitably clash. It's all handled with Altman's dextrous ability to juggle an extremely large (and talented) cast. The fluid camera work and overlapping dialog are a wonder to behold. And what an all star cast it is! Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Helen Mirren, Charles Dance, Jeremy Northam, Clive Owen, Bob Balaban, Ryan Phillippe, Stephen Fry, Eileen Atkins, Emily Watson, Alan Bates, Derek Jacobi, Richard E. Grant, and James Wilby...it's the telephone book of  Who's Who English actors, and there's not a bum performance in the bunch. Emily Watson and Helen Mirren deserve special shout-outs as world-weary downstairs staffers. Their characters know the lot in life they've been dealt and you can feel the weight of it in their eyes alone. Fellowes has a real ear for the various strata of dialog. This was essentially a dry run for his enormously successful TV series "Downton Abby" ten years later. In fact, the initial plans were for that show to be a spinoff of "Gosford", later scrapped. But it's the same "Upstairs/Downstair" set-up, even using the scene-stealing Maggie Smith in much the same capacity as a wickedly droll dowager casting off tart quips and asides like poison pellets to throw everyone off their game. And just when you think the mystery doesn't really matter, the plot surprises you with an honest-to-God surprising (and poignant) solution to the crime that you won't see coming.


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