Gosford Park (2001)

123.

★★★★

Directed by: Robert Altman
Written by: Robert Altman (idea), Bob Balaban (idea), Julian Fellowes
Stars: Maggie Smith, Ryan Phillippe and Michael Gambon

Only Robert Altman could invite so many stars to party under one roof, weave through a complex murder mystery of personalities created by the divisions of British class in the 1930’s, and pull it off. A Downton Abbey (also written by Julian Fellowes) meets Agatha Christie, Gosford Park is given the signature Altman twist, poking fun at the snobbery of the British elite in a cool and clever manner. 

An Altman party

At first, Gosford Park makes you want to play a guessing game of naming all the familiar faces on screen. From Maggie Smith and Helen Mirrin to Clive Owen and Ryan Phillippe, every single actor invited to play in Altman’s whodunnit murder is recognizable. It may be an incentive to see the film, but more interestingly, it becomes a fascinating chance to see whose performances stand out and how each and every actor contributes to the story. Because while it is initially confusing and very difficult to follow who’s who and what’s what (no thanks to mumbling British accents), by the end of the film, the different personalities of the characters and their function become all too clear.

If one is seeking a straightforward murder mystery, Gosford Park won’t give you the satisfaction you’re after. Altman’s idea of a murder mystery doesn’t have to do with the suspense surrounding the murder, but the relationships between the upstairs and downstairs characters, whose division and interaction create a sense of play of British sensibilities and manners that are both hilarious and tragic. From the Hollywood filmmaker who is coincidentally in the process of making a Charlie Chan murder mystery picture himself to the brittle countess played by Maggie Smith, the multi-layered strands of plot that travel up and down the stairs of Altman’s manor are more focused on personalities than anything plot-driven.

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