Monday, October 12, 2009

2001 - Gosford Park

Can someone please tell me where to buy some decent fruit in New York? I just don't understand why there is so much sub-par fruit in this city. In Sydney, the supermarket was more than satisfactory for your produce needs, and the innumerable fruit and veggie shops in our neighbourhood were just an added bonus. But here in New York, the supermarket's fruit section is less than appetising. I know there are farmer's markets around, but must I travel to Union Square every weekend to find a peach that actually smells like a peach? And perhaps I've been spoilt with Queensland bananas, but the soft yellow sticks they call bananas in this city just don't cut it.

Well, at least my appetite for fried food is easily sated.

Today, I watched the third of the nominees from the 2001 Best Picture contest...

Gosford Park
Robert Altman
Julian Fellowes
Eileen Atkins, Bob Balaban, Alan Bates, Charles Dance, Stephen Fry, Michael Gambon, Richard E. Grant, Derek Jacobi, Kelly MacDonald, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, Clive Owen, Ryan Phillipe, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emily Watson
Academy Awards:
7 nominations
1 win, for Best Original Screenplay

An interesting twist on the classic English manor murder mystery, Gosford Park begins as an intricately woven tale of several characters who converge on the country house of Sir William McCordle for a weekend of fine dining, respectable music and good old-fashioned bird murder ... I mean, pheasant-hunting. Upstairs, the wealthy folk enjoy these spoils whilst downstairs, the servants potter about after them. Then, the unthinkable happens when Sir William is discovered dead in his study, apparently murdered twice. A police investigation ensues and everybody's secrets are revealed.

I don't remember thinking very much of this film the first time I saw it, but perhaps I've matured because it really tickled my fancy this time around. It's a positively fascinating exploration of the differences and similarities between the two classes represented. All sorts of relationships are going on both upstairs and downstairs, and sometimes between the two, and there are struggles, doubts and fears on both sides of the coin. It seems it's not easy being a servant, but it's not easy being a part of respectable society, either, with all that etiquette one must follow.

Being a Robert Altman film, there are, of course, myriad characters, which is a little complicated at first, but once you've figured out who's who, there are plenty of secrets to be discovered behind closed doors. In fact, it just gets more and more complex as the film proceeds, with people's lives intertwining in all sorts of surprising ways, that you do need to keep on top of it all.

If Gosford Park were just about the class system of 1930s Britain - which is, in fact, just how the film initially presents itself - it would be fascinating enough, but what is particularly satisfying is that the first half of the film turns out to be an elaborate and clever set-up for what is to come. Not only do we witness the class struggle, but also littered throughout are subtle hints and whispers of motives and means. And most cleverly, the whodunit style of the second half still retains the exploration of the societal themes.

The large cast are extremely talented at underplaying all the subtleties and it would be hard to single out any of them ... but I will, anyway. The Academy deservedly gave Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith nominations for Best Supporting Actress. I particularly enjoyed Stephen Fry's bumbling inspector, as well as Clive Owen's suave servant. And imagine Michael Gambon's Sir William with a long grey beard and you have Professor Dumbledore #2.


  1. The descriptive term one most hears when discussing Robert Altman is maverick, which I guess could be applied to a number of directors, but it does suit him well. Never one to coddle to Hollywood formulas, his filmography is quite diverse. From psychological mood pieces like Images and Three Women, to riffs on genres like The Long Goodbye, McCabe and Mrs. Miller to the much maligned Popeye, he is probably most associated with his large ensemble pieces. Gosford Park is one of his best, and as you so aptly described Matt actually tackles two genres, the British class period piece and the Agatha Christie type murder mystery.

    I'll once again refer to the 'old' days, when going to the movies often meant seeing a double feature - a common occurrence of the past. I revisited that practice in 2001. I saw both In the Bedroom and Gosford Park back to back since I had to travel 50 miles to find a theater showing both. After the dramatic morality play that was Bedroom, the humor of Gosford Park was a welcomed change. However, I wasn't as sharp as I should have been, and I was lost after the first half hour. I got my bearings and ended up thoroughly enjoying it, but liked it even more when I was able to see it again on DVD.

    I think it is a movie that really can be treasured with multiple viewings. Beside the absolutely splendid acting, period detail and witty script, you can just marvel at how Altman's camera never stops moving - like and invisible interloper. Watching the fluidity of it especially following Moulin Rouge! is a study in contrasts.

  2. As I said when I first saw it, it was a good satire on classes, but could be a bit too long. I’ll need to see it again and concentrate on the dialogue more because the British accents were difficult at times.

    Sal D