Robert Altman, Director
Alliance Atlantis Productions; 2.35:1 Anamorphic; Dolby Digital 5.1; 137 Minutes
Gosford Park will appeal to fans of the series Upstairs, Downstairs that ran on PBS many years ago. The story here occurs at a weekend shooting party on an English estate during which a murder occurs, and then the fun begins. With almost every distinguished Brtish stage actor in the cast (Alan Bates, Derek Jacobi, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, Maggie Smith, Kristen Scott Thomas…), this film has an authenticity and vitality that make for an engrossing two-hours-plus watch. The screenplay by Julian Fellowes won an Oscar. But to get it all you have to listen carefully because of the rapidity of all the dialogue (another Altman trademark) here spoken in a variety of accents. A running joke is a Scottish servant who really isn’t, with numerous downstairs types wondering about his accent; actually, he’s more than a running joke, but that’s all I have to say about that. It’s a Whodunit, after all. A quote from the DVD box nicely catches the tone of the film: “Gosford Park proves that murder can be such an inconvenience.”
Of course, it’s the servants downstairs who see and know the most, while the gentry upstairs have murder motives galore. Gosford Park is a first class Whodunit with a great script, enough memorable characters for any three movies, and just about the only director who can make meaning of chaos (instead of the opposite we see too often), Robert Altman.
Special features include a commentary by the screenwriter, deleted scenes with optional commentary, a Making Of doc, trailer, and an interview session in the Academy Theatre in Hollywood after a screening. All these extras, are quite a bit longer than the film itself, and make for a fascinating series of insights into the way Altman, his support team, and the ensemble cast work together. Altman says that the 6 best and most memorable moments in any of his films are always either accidents or mistakes that come out of the ensemble improvisation of the actors immersed in their characters. Also, we find the writer, Julian Fellowes, was on set all the time, writing and rewritng dialogue, as well as blocking scenes. This is typical with Altman’s films. By using two cameras running simultaneously, the director was able to keep the actors from playing to the camera; of course, most were experienced stage actors, and by having all wear wireless microphones and multitracking the dialogue, Altman was able to maintain his typical overlapping conversation effects, achieving clarity in the editing suite later.
Particularly interesting is a vignette about the elderly butlers, footmen, cooks, and maids hired to maintain upstairs and downstairs authenticity, but the Making Of also is a must for those who study film. Also wonderful is the commentary on the deleted scenes, running with the scenes themselves.
This is a brilliant movie packaged for DVD superbly, the extras drawing us back to the movie again with a much better understanding of its story, its period and social mores, and the extraordinary craft of creating these for us.