8 out of 10
Too Many Roberts Is A Recipe For Murder
Take one of the most experimental directors today, add the nephew of the president of Paramount Pictures, some of the best British acting talent and nostalgia for the perfect country house Agatha Christie style murder mystery and you have Gosford Park, a unique and lavish production.
Set in 1932, it was filmed in the home counties at Wrotham Park, Hall Barn, and in the sumptuous Syon Park, London home of the Duke of Northumberland with opulent and decadent costume and set design by Anna Pinnock and Jenny Beavan ("Sense & Sensibility"). Cozy and familiar, it has all the hallmarks of a classic British murder mystery - the rainy country landscape, old mansion, an assortment of odd wealthy characters, multiple motives and dry English wit. With similarities to a good Poirot mystery and the long running drama of Upstairs Downstairs (including an appearance of actress Meg Wynn Owen as Lewis), it follows the exploits above and below stairs, with the dramas and romances of the wealthy and the gossip and dark pasts of the servants, the storyline follows the lives of several characters without revealing whodunnit until the very end.
Wealthy Sir William McCordell (Michael Gambon) and his wife Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas) invite close friends and relatives, including acclaimed 1930's American actor Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam), for a weekend of hunting at their country estate. Following the murder of a member of the household, police and detectives, with the fabulous Stephen Fry as Inspector Thompson, attempt to unravel a mystery where everyone has a secret to hide.
Directed by Robert Altman, Gosford Park is similar to the layered intertwining stories of previous works "Short Cuts" and "Pret-a-Porter" and filmed in almost a verite style, it contains a very personal, fly-on-the-wall study of the lives of people obsessed by freedom and luxury but also heavily bound by wealth and strict social morals of the English class system. For both the upstairs and downstairs scenes, the actors are in constant motion, in an attempt to recreate the feeling of a real household. Based on an idea by Altman and Bob Balaban (who also stars as Ivor Novello's close friend director Morris Weismann), the script was written by British actor Julian Fellowes, known for his many years of stage and screen roles, one of the most recent as Killwillie in Scottish tv drama "Monarch of the Glen." Cleverly written, it contains a perplexing mystery and also a story that draws you into a world of a Britain weary of war and a social class frightened of change.
Amongst some of the best performances are Helen Mirren as ever vigilant housekeeper Mrs. Wilson, Kelly MacDonald as maid servant Mary McEachern and Dame Maggie Smith as the acidic Countess of Trentham.
Finally like a clue from some other murder mystery, it seems to involve a large number of Roberts. In a movie about Robert Park, the film crew included Robert Altman, Robert Balaban, Robert Jones, Robert Hill, Robert Ireland, Robert Cuddy, Robert Guerney, Robert Garvie and Robert Turner, as well as Dean Roberts and Clare Robertson, shot in a house owned by Robert Byng and one with interiors by Robert Adams. Little wonder it even won the Robert Award from Denmark.
Film Critic: Jennifer M Lillies