Towards the end of his career and even his life (he died five years later at 81, after two more mediocre films), the great American filmmaker Robert Altman made one of his best films. A darkly humorous satirical thriller – a drama in which he assembled an extraordinary cast that at first looks like a perfect mix of two perhaps the most famous British film products. At first, “Gosford Park” is one of those typical British films about the idle, conceited, arrogant and snobbish English aristocracy. But we quickly realize that this ivory aristocratic drama about high society is spiced with a murder-mystery theme in the footsteps of Agatha Christie, because the host of a lavish party in one of those typical British country villas will end up dead.
As he did something similar perfectly in previous films such as “Nashville” or “Short Cuts”, Altman also here with numerous characters who will be guests of the rich industrialist Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) in November 1932, his wife Lady Sylvie (Kristin Scott Thomas) and daughter Isobel weave together a perfect mosaic in the estate called Gosford Park. As if Sir William didn’t already have enough servants, butlers and all the other servants that similar sleazeballs had at the time, all the guests will bring their support staff. And while the aristocracy and other guests, including the American producer who arrived in the company of family friend Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam), will settle on the floors of the villa, numerous servants are gathered in the attic and basement spaces.
And it would really take too much time and space to list all the characters that are at Gosford Park, but it is immediately clear to us who has what role. And while it is clear from the beginning that all these servants are there to make the aristocracy’s stay as comfortable as possible, the guests are there with different motives. Some of them are in financial trouble and hope that the old sleazy crooks and the obscenely rich and equally arrogant can help them out. Hollywood producer Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban, who with Altman came up with the idea for the film based on the inspiration of Renoir’s classic “The Rules of the Game” from 1939) came there because he plans to make a film about a similar gathering in a typical English villa during which a murder will take place .
And then exactly what Weissman imagined will happen – someone will kill the host. Then the sloppy Inspector Thompson (Stephen Fry) will appear on the scene and it will turn out that Sir William was first poisoned by someone, and then someone stabbed him, unaware that he was already dead. And there are many motives for killing the hated host. From the guests to the servants and while the inspector who spends time in the company of the aristocracy, while his assistant Dexter is immediately placed among the servants, will conduct the investigation, “Gosford Park” will turn into a great black comedy in which, on the edge of farce, Altman explores class relations and jokes at their expense.
Although we really have countless characters embodied by many excellent actors (Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith were nominated for Oscars for supporting female roles, and there are, to name just a few, Kelly McDonald, Clive Owen, Emily Watson, Alan Bates, Derec Jacobi, Ryan Philippe, Richard E. Grant and Charles Dance) and each of them will get a chance to shine and show off. Over time, we will understand not only the background, but also the motivation of almost all of them, and Julian Fellowes (creator of the successful series “Downtown Abbey”), who won an Oscar for the original screenplay, and Altman masterfully set the dynamics of the relationship between the characters.
Although at first it may seem confusing and overcrowded when this whole army of characters suddenly starts arriving at Gosford Park, they will all have a more or less important role by the end, but they are all there for a reason and we will find out what that is by the end reason. “Gosford Park” is one of those films that does not lose its freshness over time and is equally brilliant with each new viewing.