BY AMBER KELLY-ANDERSON
WHAT it’s about: Set against the backdrop of a 1932 English country home shooting party, the worlds of upstairs and down intersect in a multi-strand narrative of love, betrayal, class and murder.
WHO’s in it: Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Kristen Scott Thomas, Ryan Phillipe, Kelly Macdonald, Emily Watson, Clive Owen (and about a hundred other fantastic performers).
WHEN it came out: 2001
HOW come you haven’t heard of (or just seen) it: When the Academy announces its nominations, there are always a few films no one has heard of outside film circles (think this year’s Amour); in 2001, those films were In the Bedroom and Gosford Park. The latter, Robert Altman’s period ensemble piece, while excellent, was lost in the shuffle of a much flashier race between commercial successes Moulin Rouge!, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and eventual winner, A Beautiful Mind.
WHY you need to watch it–immediately!
- No one does ensemble like Altman. His ability to develop multiple narratives and characters is masterful. The film beautifully blends Altman trademarks like overlapping dialogue, moving multiple cameras, social commentary, and improvisation with “Who Done It ?” Agatha Christie elements to create a mystery that reveals much about class, identity and human nature.
- Moreover, Altman is a storyteller who knows how to temper his production so that it never feels bloated or pretentious. Instead, Altman’s camera work invites the audience into the world he recreates, allowing them to forge an emotional connection, a grand fete for a historical film.
- As the witty and engaging script, based on an idea by Altman and Bob Balaban, is written by Downton Abbey creator/scribe Julian Fellows (who won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay), it is seems a prequel to Downton. Many of the characters will feel familiar to Downton fans, such as Alan Bates’s butler Jennings or Eileen Atkins’s mouthy cook Mrs. Croft. And on that subject…
- Maggie Smith received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress (alongside cast mate Mirren as housekeeper Mrs. Wilson) for her wry, hilarious Constance, Countess of Trentham who it would seem Fellows developed to create Smith’s Violet, her award-winning role on Downton. Gosford Park showcases why both ladies have worked steadily in both ensemble and starring roles for decades. Classy, smart and fearless, they are masters of their craft.
- The cast list, too lengthy to tackle above, is ridiculously good and blends seamlessly. Altman wisely stuck with an authentically British cast, using Americans only for the appropriate roles. Thus movie-goers are treated to fantastic performances by established classical actors such as Derek Jacobi (The King’s Speech, Henry V and Hamlet) alongside then up and comers like Kelly Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire and Brave).
- Like most of Altman’s films, this one demands repeat viewings. Its clever plot and thematic depth deserve revisiting to appreciate a multifaceted artwork created by one of the greatest American directors.