Review No. 392
The Bottom Line: It’s a murder mystery?
Directed by: Robert Altman
Written by: Julian Fellowes
Idea by: Robert Altman and Bob Balaban
Mrs. Croft: Eileen Atkins
Jennings: Alan Bates
William McCordle: Michael Gambon
Mrs. Wilson: Helen Mirren
Constance Trentham: Maggie Smith
Also Starring: Charles Dance, Clive Owen, Derek Jacobi, Emily Watson, Jeremy Northam, Kelly Macdonald, Kristin Scott Thomas, Richard E. Grant, Ryan Philippe, Stephen Fry
Distributed by USA Films on January 4, 2002. Produced in English by the United Kingdom and the United States. Runs 137 minutes. Rated R by the MPAA for some language and brief sexuality.
Gosford Park was watched on January 16, 2013.
“If there’s one thing I don’t look for in a maid, it’s discretion. Except with my own secrets, of course.” –Constance, Countess of Trentham (Maggie Smith)
It seems I watched Gosford Park almost by mere mistake. Did I know of it? Sure, as a multi-Oscar nominee back in 2002. What I didn’t know about it was what it intended to be. Summarized, this is an interesting story. It’s a murder mystery set in 1932 Britain, whilst also detailing the lives of the rich and their servants during the period.
Less than a decade after its release, writer Julian Fellowes created TV’s Downton Abbey. I have yet to watch a single episode of the series, but knowing that it was inspired heavily by Gosford Park, I wouldn’t imagine myself ever getting hooked.
Gosford Park commences with a promise. It sets up with a robust, vivid, audacious tone. The performances are magnificent, the costumes are impeccably designed for the time period, the music is a continuous serenade, and the cinematography looks as if it was captured through the eyes of Da Vinci.
This continues throughout the film. It’s not the artistic manner itself that dies down, but rather a banal effect that results from ponderously underwhelming substance. It’s like constantly switching between art and history museums, constantly hearing the same music in the elevators; only kept awake by the intriguing, strangely witty crowd of people that surround you.
There’s an irony that surrounds Gosford Park. It is (supposedly) a murder mystery, yet there’s virtually no onscreen violence. Count me in for this. I’m all for a mystery that feels no need to use action in order to gain intrigue. The problem here is that I can’t even discern why exactly Gosford Park has earned the respect of a mystery of any sort.
There’s a light mood to the film. It’s rather subtly humorous, but enough to crack a smile and slightly amuse. Most of this, as you might guess, is because the drama uses its entire first act developing its characters as witty, soft spoken men and women, all of ‘em gathered at a wealthy family’s shooting party one fine weekend.
The second act suggests murder more than anything in the first act (not that that’s saying much). This is where I was left cold. From the very beginning, the story is self-established as one detailing the lives of the rich folks upstairs, as paralleled with those of their servants downstairs, yadda yadda yadda. Yet each demographic introduces so many characters–let alone familiar faces–it’s a challenge trying to keep up with everything that happens, and not grow distracted from the main point of the movie–which, evidently, is the murder mystery.
The murder comes very close to absolutely no explanation at all. I love movies that raise questions. I don’t appreciate it when movies like Gosford Park believe they have to raise numerous questions that shouldn’t need to be asked to begin with, and could have very easily. First off, who committed the murder? Was it a conspiracy? They all seemed pretty sketchy, but you can never be so sure. Was the discussion of committing murder without actually being aware a joke or a dead-serious assertion? Was this all intended as a figurative story, and I instead took it to heart in a technical manner? Perhaps these were, in fact, answered and I somehow missed them. Considering how straightforward Gosford Park is, the chances are repulsively slim.
I am glad I watched Gosford Park. No, it didn’t meet my expectations, nor would I recommend it. There were bright spots–even in the long-winded screenplay, there were spurts of humor. My main ability to finish the film was due to the top-notch acting. But only in the rarest of cases can an actor or actress make up for the rest of a lukewarm drama.
I look to what most other critics say about the film and find myself in some sort of cross between disgust and confusion. Gosford Park is a film that I can imagine having a safe, quick trip out of my memory. And frankly, I wouldn’t be willing to give it a visa back into my mind. Not for all the tea in China (or Britain).