Gosford Park is another beautifully acted and witty satire from Robert Altman. It’s also a vast ensemble piece in the tradition of his Nashville, The Player and Short Cuts. The overlapping dialogue is initially disorienting while you sort out the characters and various plots. But it’s soon exhilarating to sit back and watch a crowd of talented actors going about their business.The film is ostensibly a murder mystery, but the crime doesn’t occur until almost the very end. The focus for Altman and screenwriter Julian Fellowes is class. Altman cuts constantly between the upstairs masters and downstairs servants during a weekend shooting party at a British country mansion in 1932. The upper and lower areas of the house are carefully demarcated - the servants are only seen, and not heard, upstairs. But his cameras move back and forth between them to expose labyrinthine character interrelationships. The fine attention to detail in the dialogue and splendid visuals immerses you in the manners of the time. When Emily Watson’s servant transgresses her boundaries, you gasp in shock.
Watson, a pricelessly funny Maggie Smith, bitchy Kristin Scott Thomas, understated Helen Mirren and relative newcomer Kelly Macdonald as Smith’s maid are standouts among the female cast. Equally good are Michael Gambon as the house’s obnoxious owner, Jeremy Northam as actor-songsmith Ivor Novello, Jeremy Swift and Will Beer as footmen, and Clive Owen as a sharp valet.
My only qualm is the heavy-handed conclusion. The murder and its resolution are treated in an offhand manner. There are only a limited number of possible suspects, and the film’s gossipy chatter ceases for the explanations at the end. The film echoes with the sudden silence.Otherwise Gosford Park is very cleverly constructed and executed. With its enchanting cast, it makes for a thoroughly entertaining spectacle.