GOSFORD PARK (2001)
Starring Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emily Watson, Alan Bates, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Richard E. Grant, Jeremy Northam, Bob Balaban and Ryan Phillippe.
Screenplay by Julian Fellowes.
Directed by Robert Altman.
Distributed by Universal Pictures. 138 minutes. Rated R.
Gosford Park has been promoted as the return of the British parlor mystery, but it is really nothing of the sort. Robert Altman’s latest film is instead his homage the work of Merchant and Ivory. It is a vivid and minutely detailed portrait of the haves and the have-nots in World War II era England.
A country manor (castle is more like it) plays host to a pheasant hunting weekend and the rich but squabbling family and friends of a selfish millionaire gather to pretend to put aside their differences. They gorge on food and drink and live in luxury upstairs while the downstairs houses the maids and manservants… living in drab quarters, with no other interests but gossip and keeping their masters (or mistresses) happy.
For about a half-hour, this class struggle is somewhat interesting. Sadly the relentlessly slow pace of the film causes the story to sputter. Gosford Park is packed with an all-star team of British film and theater… Dame Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emily Watson, Alan Bates, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Richard E. Grant, Jeremy Northam, as well as a couple of impressive Americans Bob Balaban (who also cowrote the original story idea with director Altman) and Ryan Phillippe. With a cast like this, it goes without saying that the acting is superb. Altman’s direction and visual flair also show the seasoned professionalism of a pro on the top of his game.
Too bad it is squandered on such a slight story. By the time the murder finally occurs, an hour and a half into the film (and it isn’t a good sign that I was checking my watch to know that fact) the death is a complete afterthought. There is a very halfhearted investigation… Stephen Fry comes in playing an inspector who is impossibly dim, even by British parlor mystery standards… and then the culprits turn out to be the most obvious suspects. It almost throws you because years of mystery conditioning lead you to believe that these characters are so obviously guilty that they must be a trick, a red herring. But the filmmakers can’t be bothered with anything so mundane as to try to surprise us – which is supposed to be the key element in any puzzle.
But, in all fairness, Gosford Park isn’t a murder mystery (though it is being promoted as one). It’s more like The Remains of the Day making an indifferent attempt to be Witness for the Prosecution. (1/02)
Copyright ©2001 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 11, 2002.