Lowdown: It’s all about class in this masters and servants story.
Late director Robert Altman is one of those directors I don’t really know how to digest. On one hand, he has made some heavy weight classics in his time: The Long Goodbye and Short Cuts to name just two. On the other hand, while I fully acknowledge his cinematic talent I am still unable to point at a single film of his that knocked me off my seat. 2001’s Gosford Park is no exception.
The first thing you notice about Gosford Park, as the opening credits zoom by, is the extensive list of major big time stars. This park has enough to fill up ten different movies: Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stephen Fry, Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, Derek Jacobi, Alan Bates and Richard E. Grant to name a few. So you can quickly tell Gosford Park is an actor’s act.
The next thing you notice about Gosford Park, as characters start talking to one another, is that it’s really hard to understand what they’re saying. We’ve watched the film off Channel 7 HD, and I don’t think the people at Channel 7 did anything in particular to damage the presentation but use a copy sporting rather muddy detailed picture and sound. I blame the filmmakers and/or the studios here, because a film like Gosford Park that depends on dialog cannot have its dialog muffled to unintelligible levels. Couple that with Channel 7’s close captioning choosing not to work (there was actually a caption saying that) and you’ll see why my experience with Gosford Park borders the speculative. So read the rest of the review while bearing in mind I only received a part of the total Gosford Park experience.
Onto the film itself. Gosford Park is the story of masters and servants told using a classic England of 1932 setting: lots of nobility and rich people gather together at a single mansion under the excuse of forming a hunting party, and they all bring their servants with them. What follows is the story of the masters, the story of the servants, and the stories of their interaction. Oh, and there's a murder in there, too.
At its core, Gosford Park tries to show how the masters and the servants are alike. Both are human beings, with the fallacies involved but also with some good in them (although it's the former that's more emphasized). Watching it, it's quite amazing to accept that people were so class oriented at such recent a time as 1932. Whether we assume the story is historically reliable or not doesn't really matter, as it is obvious that class issues are still a major part of society today and in England in particular; it's just that today money is worshipped much more than class. That attitude is also displayed in the film, as well as an American look towards British ways to represent the way we look now at those ways with a mix of mockery and contempt. I suspect Gosford Park's aim was for us to look ourselves in the mirror and see whether we can honestly mock or whether we're two faced. I think we are; too many of us crave to feel we belong somewhere and to be led, and what better way to satisfy the craving than to invent a class system with its rules and regulations.
Best scene: The servants sit themselves to their dinner table in the order of their masters’ rankings. What a delightful way for Altman to make his statement!
Overall: Good but unexceptional. That is, if I got it right in the first place. 3 out of 5 stars.