GOSFORD PARK 2001

Starring: Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Camilla Rutherford, Maggie Smith, Charles Dance, Geraldine Somerville, Tom Hollander, Natasha Wightman, James Wilby, Claudie Blakley, Laurence Fox, Trent Ford, Jeremy Northam, Bob Balaban, Alan Bates, Helen Mirren, Derek Jacobi, Eileen Atkins, Emily Watson, Kelly Macdonald, Clive Owens, Stephen Fry, and others...

Director: Robert Altman
Writing credits: Robert Altman and Bob Balaban (idea)
Screenplay: Julian Fellowes

Rated: R (brief sexuality and strong language)
Running time: 137 minutes

Reviewed by Cherie Jung

Altman has assembled a stunning cast. Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Bates, Helen Mirren, and Derek Jacobi just to name a few. The setting is an old English country house in the early 1930s. As the movie slowly opens, various relatives and houseguests begin arriving for a weekend of shooting, presumably at pheasants, and sniping, at each other. Tension is high. Most of the couples are barely civil to each other. Everyone seems to want something, usually monetarily, from the head of the household, Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon). And he, on his part, wants to disinherit or deny most of the requests that will be put forth during the weekend.

Case in point, Constance, Countess of Trentham (Maggie Smith). She wants to ask for an increase in her allowance. An "allowance" that she feels she is entitled to for the duration of her life. She has a house and servants of her own and Sir McCordle's allowance provides her with the funds necessary to continue to live in the manner to which she has become accustomed. He plans to cut her off completely.

As we meet the arriving guests, we learn a bit about what each wants to get from Sir McCordle and what he plans to do about it. He is understandably put upon, yet he doesn't garner our full sympathies. He is, at times, quite unlikable.

In the midst of all of this, the guests have brought along countless suitcases (the women alone, are required to change their clothing at least three, no, four times per day so you can imagine the amount of luggage there is to deal with) and their attending maids and valets.

If you don't know your housekeeper, from your cook, or your head maid from your scullery maid or junior kitchen maid, you'll need to pay close attention until you get things sorted out. There is a life above the stairs (guests) and one below (servants). And the one below is even more fascinating than the one above.

Complicating matters "above the stairs" is that there are so many people rushing about, it's a bit difficult to sort out and keep track of who's who. To me, the upstairs women (except for Constance) looked so similar that I was confused as to who was who most of the time. I did manage to figure out who Lady McCordle was and that the other women were either her sisters (two of them) or Sir McCordle's daughter. All of the women sported that pencil thin, no outstanding body parts look with similarly styled hair, although there was some variation in hair color.

With so many cast and characters to introduce and establish, the movie moves at a fairly slow pace. Anything faster and a large portion of the audience would be at a loss as to what's going on. We know that there will be a murder, eventually, but there are several likely candidates, just as there are several likely suspects once the murder occurs.

Mary (Kelly Macdonald) is Countess Constance of Trentham's new maid. Mary is just as confused by all of the upstairs, downstairs protocol as we are and it is through Mary that we begin to sort things out, and eventually, through Mary that we unravel the various intertwined threads that explain just what has happened on this weekend outing.

I highly recommend this movie but caution that you will have to pay attention if you hope to keep up with who is doing what to whom and why.

Copyright © 2002 Over My Dead Body! All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Over My Dead Body! is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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