Second Sight: Gosford Park (2001) - Reviewed

Robert Altman masterfully brings his unique version of a Hollywood “whodunit” to the screen with Gosford Park.  For anyone not familiar with Altman’s work, this usually means ensemble casts full of lush characters acted passionately, and a complete subversion of genre tropes, flipping any expectation on its ass.  This film does not disappoint, and in fact this particular movie suits his style of directing perfectly.

Penned by Julian Fellowes (famous for writing Downton Abbey, which was originally planned as a spinoff of Gosford Park), a group of rich socialites and their personal servants gather for a weekend hunting getaway in 1930s England.  Gossip between the rich and famous upstairs blends with the gossip of the help downstairs to create tension and to supply the audience with exposition. When someone is found dead, an Inspector (Stephen Fry) shows up to try to solve the murder. 

With an ensemble cast of over 40 (including Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Clive Owen, Stephen Fry, Emily Watson, just to name a few), Altman provides a voyeuristic experience--as if the audience is peering in on a party.  His inimitable use of overlapping dialogue is utilized effortlessly, and the movie just rolls over the audience like calming waves.  It is fun to get to know who the characters are and how they relate to one another. Each person plays their own part in the story, and not one character steals the show.

Beautifully shot at both the Syon House in London and on built soundstages, and with breath-taking period accurate costumes on both the rich and their servants, there is a good hour and a half of getting to know the characters and how they interact with one another before the murder takes place. At that point, it is easy to forget that this movie even is supposed to be a murder mystery! When bombastic Inspector Thompson arrives midway through the film, he breathes new life into the film, completely distracting from the runtime of this movie.

For those who have seen this movie once, it is definitely worth a re-watch.  There are loads of little nuggets in this movie that one would not notice in one viewing.  In addition, the newly released Arrow Video Blu-ray includes audio commentaries with Robert Altman, Stephen Altman and David Levy, one with writer-producer Julian Fellowes, and also one with film critic Geoff Andrews and Altman documentarian/writer of the book Altman on Altman, David Thompson.  Interviews with cast and crew include interviews with executive producer Jane Barclay, and actress Natasha Wightman.  Featurettes brought over from previous releases include “The Making of Gosford Park”, “The Authenticity of Gosford Park”, and a cast and Filmmaker Q & A session.  Deleted scenes are available both with and without commentary from Altman, and of course, the theatrical trailer.  Familiar or not with Robert Altman’s body of work, this movie is simply delightful, and to hear Altman talk about his vision in these special features is a joy.

--Mara Powell