Oscar Vault Monday – Gosford Park, 2001 (dir. Robert Altman)
This is one of those movies I remember really love when I first saw and then didn’t watch again for years only to rediscover it all over again. It features a stellar ensemble cast consisting of pretty much every British person ever. The cast went on to win the Best Ensemble at the SAG awards. I remember when Sir Ian McKellan won the SAG for his role in the first Lord of the Rings movie, he quipped something about being the only British actor not in Gosford Park. The film was nominated for 7 Academy Awards – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress Dame Helen Mirren, Best Supporting Actress Dame Maggie Smith, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design and won Best Original Screenplay – Julian Fellowes. The curious thing about Julian Fellowes is that, at least for me, I loved this film to death and was absolutely bored by two of his latest efforts – Vanity Fair and The Young Victoria. It makes me wonder if perhaps those screenplays would have been fine if he’d had the same calibre director as Altman, or if this screenplay was a one hit wonder?
The basic plot is similar to that of many an Agatha Christie novel – lots of rich Britons (plus a handful of wealthy Americans) arrive at a country estate for a shooting party in 1932 England and before the weekend ends someone is dead. It’s kind of difficult to follow who’s who the first time you watch the film, but wikipedia has a pretty great chart explaining how everyone is related to each other. What I really love about this film is how it shows you both the upstairs (aka wealthy persons) and the downstairs (aka the servants). It’s a great look into both sides of a world that usually is only shown from the wealthy side. This would be a pretty hefty entry if I talked about every performance in this film, and believe when I say there is not a weak performance in this film, but instead I’m going to talk about some of my absolute favorites.
The first performance I’m going to talk about is Michael Gambon as Sir William McCordle, Bt – the philandering head of the household. I’m pretty sure the trailer shows him as the victim and even if it doesn’t, it’s obvious pretty much from the start that almost everyone hates him. What I like about Gambon’s performance is, even though his character is clearly awful, Gambon has an easy charm to him that makes love him regardless.
Claudie Blakley gives a particularly devastating performances as Mabel Nesbitt, the wife of one of the guests. She suffers from the “my husband came from a good family, but had no money; I had money but no title” syndrome. Although, as the film starts what little money she had is now gone and her husband is particularly cruel to her, as are many of the guests. Mabel is a lady, in the true sense of the word, and although she is fragile, she holds her head high throughout the film, desperately trying to hold on to whatever dignity she has left.
Jeremy Northam is charming as Ivor Novello 0 Sir William’s second cousin, a famous actor and singer and Bob Balaban adds a bit of variety as Morris Weissman, a Hollywood producer. The banter between these two, who are both within the inner circle and at the same time outside it, is biting and wonderful.
Dame Maggie Smith is deliciously nasty as Constance, Countess of Trentham. She’s at an age and place in life where she says whatever she pleases, regardless of the feelings of others. She’s gossipy, both within the guest circle and with her lady’s maid. She’s definitely the best of all the Upstairs characters.
Stephen Fry adds a little extra humor to the film as a bumbling detective who comes to investigate Sir William’s murder. Fry is wonderful at everything he does and this performance is no exception.
Clive Owen is broody and witty as Robert Parks, a valet to one of the guests, with a shady past. When I first saw this film I didn’t pa much attention to his performance, but when I watched it again after several years I’d become more familiar with the actor and it was hard not to be mesmerized by him.
Richard E. Grant often plays characters with a menacing demeanor and his performance as George, a footman and valet, is no exception. He is sarcastic and antagonistic towards his fellow servants.
Emily Watson is smoldering as Elsie, a housemaid. She’s got secrets of her own and shares just enough with her fellow servants and the audience that you can’t help but want more. Her scenes with Kelly MacDonald are particularly stellar. The two actresses play off each other well.
Kelly MacDonald is really the glue who holds the whole film together as Lady Trentham’s lady’s maid. She zips in and out between the upstairs and downstairs and interacts with almost every other actor in the film, one of the few characters to do so. MacDonald is one of my favorite actresses and she is particularly great in this film. She’s subtle and she’s charming and she’s really at home in front of the camera.
Dame Eileen Atkins gives a grave performance as Mrs. Croft, the cook. She is jaded and levelheaded throughout the film. She’s also distant and rather cold, until the very end of the film, where the viewer gets a real look at how strong and brave a woman she really is.
Dame Helen Mirren gives arguably the best and most complex performance as Mrs. Wilson, the housekeeper. There are layers upon layers to her performance, which she gives to the viewer little by little throughout the film. It is at the end of the film that Mirren really shines. Although she won the SAG award for Best Supporting Actress, she ultimately lost the Oscar to Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind.
If I’ve managed to pique your interest in this film or you’ve already seen it and I’ve reminded you how much you love it, you can purchase it here.
Posted on June 7, 2010, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged 2001, A Beautiful Mind, Bob Balaban, Claudie Blakley, Clive Owen, Eileen Atkins, Emily Watson, Gosford Park, Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Connelly, Jeremy Northam, Julian Fellowes, Kelly MacDonald, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Oscar Vault Monday, Richard E. Grant, Robert Altman, Stephen Fry, The Lord of the Rings, The Young Victoria, Vanity Fair. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.