© 2001 USA Films

Gosford Park (2001)

I am not entirely sure why, but when I first watched this film four or five years ago, I did not care for it much, but watching it a second time, I loved it, although I went through the entire movie thinking Michael Gambon was Albert Finney. Maybe it is because this time around, I have seen a few Robert Altman films recently and have been reading a lot about him and that allowed me to see how it fits into his career. Altman and co-producer Bob Balaban came up with the idea of making an Agathie Cristie type murder mystery set in a manor house. While the plot is paramount in Cristie, Altman has always cared more about characters than plot and turned the conventions of the genre upside-down. That does work to make the plot that is there rather confusing, and even when culprit of the murder is made clear it is not a startling revelation, as there still is some ambiguity. On the side of character development, Altman takes the interesting step of focusing more on the “below stairs people,” the cooks, lady’s maids, valets and servants. When the audience is taken above stairs, they are usually accompanied by a below stairs person. Although there are dozens of characters, the lady’s maid played by Kelly MacDonald serves to pull together all of the various threads of the plot. Altman was reportedly very concerned with the authenticity of these characters, and got valets, cooks and maids who went into service between 1931 and 1936 to act as technical advisers on the set. The film also serves as a sort of who’s who of great British actors.

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