Reviewed July 6th, 2002 by Brian White
Before watching it, I almost felt like it would be a duty to watch Gosford Park. Here is a Robert Altman movie that stars many of Britain’s greatest living actors. It is a “who done it” murder mystery in the style of Agatha Christie, set in an English country home in the thirties. Being an Altman film, ultimately the movie is more about interactions and the multitude of stories within a massive cast. Well, if you’re afraid (like I was) that this is a stuffy and boring affair, forget about it. Altman has delivered another fantastic film. It is much lighter than you would expect from the footage and hype. All around, this is a great film.
Gosford Park is an Altman film and like so many in the past, you have a very large cast that boasts a wealth of story lines that overlap and evolve in unexpected ways. Unlike some Altman films, there is a fairly tight narrative to the film. Surprisingly, this makes the multi-story approach a lot tighter. Because the cast is so large, there is a little learning curve in initially figuring out who everyone is. Certainly repeat viewings will yield a wealth of information.
There really isn’t enough that can be mentioned about the fantastic cast here. Maggie Smith is quite good as an aristocratic snob Constance. The beautiful Kelly MacDonald, who played Renton’s love interest in Trainspotting, plays Constance’s maid Mary. I found her to be the star of the picture. Helen Mirren is excellent as Mrs. Wilson, the head housekeeper. There are more significant roles, like that played by Kristin Scott Thomas, and smaller roles, like the valet played by Derek Jacobi. Wherever you look, you see major talent, even in small roles. The quality of the cast is so far above par that it leaves one’s head spinning.
Altman employs several very interesting approaches to this story. First of all, the audience only gains access to the “upstairs” world when accompanied by a servant. As a result, there are certain events that are spoken of, rather than dramatized. Also, despite being a “who done it”, Altman isn’t overly concerned with leaving too many clues for the audience to figure things out. There are several possibilities, but the killer is fairly obvious. The director is more interested in “what” than “whom.”
The video on the disc is quite acceptable. It is presented in 2.35:1, anamorphic. It is a little soft, but not distracting. This is not the best looking transfer in terms of detail, but it does its job properly. I thought for a moment about describing it as BBC/A&E quality, but it’s better than that.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also serviceable, but not overwhelming in its quality. The surrounds provide a little in the way of atmosphere, such as thunder and rain. For the most part, the mix is toward the front and quite good.
For extras I cannot overstress how great it is to hear Altman deliver a feature-length, screen specific commentary. Producer David Levi, and Altman’s Son Steven (production designer) are along to help things move along, although I am impressed at Altman’s attention to detail for a man in his mid seventies. Altman appears to have no cue cards along to jog his memory, like Robert Wise on Star Trek. Also impressive is the behind-the-scenes documentary, and the great “Authenticity of Gosford Park” film, where they introduce the thirties-era servants who acted as consultants on the film. A second a feature-length commentary by scriptwriter Julian Fellowes is included, and deleted scenes with commentary by Altman. A Q&A session with the director, producers and some of the cast is also included.
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