Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Altman|
|Produced by||Robert Altman
|Written by||Julian Fellowes|
Richard E. Grant
Kristin Scott Thomas
|Music by||Patrick Doyle|
|Edited by||Tim Squyres|
|Distributed by||USA Films|
|Running time||137 minutes|
Gosford Park is a 2001 British mystery film directed by Robert Altman and written by Julian Fellowes. The film stars an ensemble cast, which includes Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Eileen Atkins, Alan Bates, Kristin Scott Thomas, Clive Owen, Emily Watson, Charles Dance, Laurence Fox, and Michael Gambon. The story follows a party of wealthy Britons and an American and their servants, who gather for a shooting weekend at Gosford Park, an English country house. A murder occurs after a dinner party and the film goes on to present the subsequent investigation into it from the servants' and guests' perspectives.
Development on Gosford Park began in 1999, when Bob Balaban came to Altman and asked if they could develop a film together. Bob Balaban suggested to Altman an Agatha Christie- style whodunit and introduced Altman to Julian Fellowes, with whom Balaban had been working on a different project. The film went into production in March 2001 and began filming at Shepperton Studios with a production budget of $19.8 million. Gosford Park premiered on 7 November 2001 at the London Film Festival. It received a limited release across cinemas in the United States in December 2001, before being widely released in January 2002 by USA Films. It was released in February 2002 in the United Kingdom.
The film was successful at the box office, grossing over $87 million in cinemas worldwide, making it Altman's second most successful film after MASH. It received multiple awards and nominations, including seven Academy Award nominations and nine British Academy Film Awards nominations.
The TV series Downton Abbey – written and created by Fellowes – was originally planned as a spin-off of Gosford Park, but instead was developed as a stand-alone property inspired by the film, set decades earlier.
November, 1932. Constance, Countess of Trentham (Maggie Smith), and her lady's maid, Mary MacEachran (Kelly Macdonald) travel to Gosford Park for the weekend. On the way, they encounter actor Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam), American film producer Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban) and Weissman's valet, Henry Denton (Ryan Phillippe). At the house, they are greeted by Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon), Lady Sylvia McCordle (Kristin Scott Thomas) and their daughter, Isobel (Camilla Rutherford). The other guests include Lady Sylvia's sisters, Louisa, Lady Stockbridge (Geraldine Somerville) and Lady Lavinia Meredith (Natasha Wightman) and their husbands, Raymond, Lord Stockbridge (Charles Dance) and Commander Anthony Meredith (Tom Hollander). Also in attendance are the Honourable Freddie Nesbitt (James Wilby) and his wife, Mabel (Claudie Blakley); Isobel's suitor, Lord Rupert Standish (Laurence Fox) and his friend Jeremy Blond (Trent Ford).
Commander Meredith is in financial difficulty and brings up the matter with Sir William, who reveals that he is rescinding his investment in Meredith's new scheme. Sir William also intends to stop paying Lady Trentham's allowance. Mary and Lord Stockbridge's valet, Parks (Clive Owen), are attracted to one another. Denton asks a number of questions about life in service and Parks reveals that he was raised in an orphanage. Denton meets Lady Sylvia and during the night, he goes to her room.
During a pheasant shoot, Sir William is slightly injured by a low shot. Commander Meredith pleads with Sir William not to back out of the investment. During dinner, Lady Sylvia attacks Sir William, implying that he was a World War I profiteer. The head housemaid, Elsie (Emily Watson), rises to his defence, breaking the class barrier, and thus revealing their affair. Sir William goes to the library, where the housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren) brings him coffee. He demands a glass of whisky instead. Lady Sylvia asks Mr. Novello to entertain the guests. George (Richard E. Grant, first footman), Parks, Mr. Nesbitt and Commander Meredith disappear and an unknown person goes to the library and stabs Sir William as he sits slumped motionless over his desk. Lady Stockbridge goes to the library and her screams bring everyone to the room. Commander Meredith and Mr. Nesbitt do not offer an explanation of their disappearances, while George says he was fetching milk for the coffee service and Parks claims to have been fetching hot water bottles.
Inspector Thomson (Stephen Fry) and Constable Dexter (Ron Webster) arrive to investigate the murder. Dexter suggests that Sir William was already dead when he was stabbed. It is eventually surmised that Sir William was poisoned before being stabbed. Denton confesses to Jennings (Alan Bates), the butler, that he is not a valet but an American actor preparing for a movie role. The next morning, Lady Sylvia goes for her morning ride, which surprises Inspector Thomson. Barnes (Adrian Scarborough) overhears Commander Meredith tell Lady Lavinia that Sir William's death was lucky for them, as the investment is now secure. Barnes tells Inspector Thomson, who interrogates Meredith.
Mrs. Croft (Eileen Atkins) tells the kitchen maid, Bertha (Teresa Churcher), that Sir William was known for seducing the women working in his factories. If a woman became pregnant, Sir William offered two choices: keep the baby and lose your job, or give the baby up and keep your job. Those who gave up their babies were told that the adoptions were being arranged with good families. In reality, Sir William paid orphanages to take the children. Mary goes to Parks' room and tells him that she knows he is the murderer. Parks tells her that he discovered Sir William was his father, entered service and attempted to gain employment with someone in his circle. Parks tells Mary that he did not poison Sir William and Mary is relieved, as Parks only stabbed the corpse.
Mary listens to Lady Sylvia and Lady Trentham discussing why Mrs. Croft and Mrs. Wilson are enemies. Lady Sylvia believes that the tension between them stems from the fact that Mrs. Wilson now outranks Mrs. Croft. Lady Trentham asks if Mrs. Wilson was ever married and Lady Sylvia replies that her name was once Parks or Parker. Mary goes to Mrs. Wilson and the older woman reveals that she poisoned Sir William to protect her son, because she knew that Parks was there to kill Sir William. She also reveals that she and Mrs. Croft are sisters. After talking to Dorothy (Sophie Thompson), Mrs. Wilson goes to her room and is comforted by Mrs. Croft. The guests leave and Lady Sylvia enters Gosford Park, while Jennings closes the door.
The film is a study of the British class system during the 1930s; Stephen Fry, Inspector Thompson in the film, says that it shows the upper class's dependency on a servant class. A number of secondary themes are also explored. For example, the film takes a subtle look at sexual mores during the 1930s and also touches on gay issues, such as the implied relationship between Henry and Weissman. As it is set in 1932, between World Wars I and II, the impact of the First World War is also explored in the film's screenplay. It also mentions the decline of the British Empire and the peerage system. Writing for PopMatters, Cynthia Fuchs described surface appearances, rather than complex interpersonal relationships, as a theme of the film.
Salon.com critic Steven Johnson notes a revival of the manor house mystery style, popularised by the writings of Agatha Christie, in the screenplay for Gosford Park. He called it a blend between this literary style and that of the 19th century novel. Bob Balaban, an actor and producer for Gosford Park, says that the idea of creating a murder mystery told by the servants in the manor was an interesting one for him and Altman.
Themes from the movie were picked up and integrated into the series Downton Abbey by Julian Fellowes. Maggie Smith starred again in her role as a dowager countess, this time her title not being Trentham but Grantham.
Development and writing
In 1999, Bob Balaban came to Robert Altman and asked him if there was something they could develop together and Altman suggested a whodunit. Altman wanted to create a country house murder mystery that explored that way of life; he called the film a "classic situation: all suspects under one roof". Altman was also inspired by the 1930s films, The Rules of the Game and Charlie Chan in London. Altman chose British actor and writer, Julian Fellowes, to write the screenplay because he knew about how the houses worked. Fellowes, who had never written a feature film before, received a telephone call from Altman, who asked him to come up with some characters and stories. Fellowes was given a brief outline of the film: it was to be "set in a country house in the 30's and to have a murder in there somewhere, but for it to really be an examination of class". Altman also wanted the film to explore the three groups of people, the family, the guests and the servants. Of the call, Fellowes said, "All the way through I thought this can't be happening - a 50 year old fat balding actor is phoned up by an American movie director - but I did work as if it was going to happen".
The original title of the film was The Other Side of the Tapestry, but Altman thought it was awkward. Fellowes began looking through some books and came up with Gosford Park. Altman said "Nobody liked it, everyone fought me on it. But when you make a picture using a name, that's its name. It's not a gripping title. But then MASH wasn't either."
Fellowes says the screenplay was "not an homage to Agatha Christie, but a reworking of that genre". Fellowes was credited not only as the film's writer but also as a technical advisor, meaning that he wrote portions of the film as it was being produced. He notes that, when writing a large scene with many actors and characters, not everything that the characters say during the scene is scripted and instead leaves the actors to improvise other lines.
Arthur Inch, the retired butler of Lord and Lady Kleinwort, was retained by Robert Altman to advise on correct procedures and arrangements on the set. Inch is credited as "Butler" immediately before Altman as Director in the final credits.
In Gosford Park, as in many of his other films, Altman had a list of actors he intended to appear in the film before it was cast formally. The film's casting director was Mary Selway, who was described by the producer David Levy as knowing many British actors. Very few actors that were offered parts did not end up in the film. Jude Law dropped out of the production just before the shoot began, and he was replaced by Ryan Phillippe. Kenneth Branagh and Robert Bathurst were both tied down by scheduling conflicts. Alan Rickman, Joely Richardson and Judi Dench were also considered for roles in the film. The film is notable for featuring two knights (Michael Gambon and Derek Jacobi) and two dames (Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkins). Two other members of the cast (Alan Bates and Helen Mirren) were later elevated to that status.
Filming and editing
Filming was conducted at Wrotham Park for the exteriors, staircase, dining room and drawing room, and Syon House for the upstairs bedrooms. The opening sequence outside Lady Trentham's home was shot at Hall Barn, near Beaconsfield, Bucks, whose grounds were also used as the scene for lunch after the shoot. Sound stages were built to film the scenes of the manor's downstairs area. Shepperton Studios was used for off-location filming.
The film was shot with two cameras, both moving perpetually in opposite directions. The cameras pointed toward no specific area, intended to cause the audience to move their eyes throughout the scene. Altman notes that most of the film's cast had experience in theatre and in film, meaning that they had acted in situations where the view of the audience is not on one specific actor and each audience member sees a slightly different image of the players on stage. Andrew Dunn, the film's cinematographer, appreciated the co-operative nature of Gosford Park's filming process. He shot the film on Kodak Vision Expression 500T film stock generally with two Panavision cameras, using lighting ranging from relatively dim candles to bright hydrargyrum medium-arc iodide lamps. Editor Tim Squyres described the editing process on Gosford Park as an unusual one, as the dual cameras used were generally located in the same areas when filming, instead of the more standard method of setting up a scene directly.
Gosford Park premiered on 7 November 2001 at the London Film Festival. The film then received a limited release across cinemas in the United States on 26 December 2001, before being widely released in January 2002 by USA Films. It was released on 1 February 2002 in the United Kingdom.
In its limited release opening weekend, the film grossed a mere $241,219, hitting No. 23 in the box office that weekend. In its wide release, it grossed $3,395,759; by the end of its run on 6 June 2002, Gosford Park grossed $41,308,615 in the domestic box office and a worldwide total of $87,754,044. With that final total, Gosford Park became Altman's second most successful film at the box office after his 1970 film, MASH.
The film received generally positive reviews from critics; review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 86% of 142 critics have given the film a positive review, with an average rating of 7.5 out of 10. According to the site's summary of the critical consensus, "A mixture of Upstairs, Downstairs; Clue; and perceptive social commentary, Gosford Park ranks among director Altman's best." Metacritic, which assigns a score of 1–100 to individual film reviews, gives the film an averaged rating of 90 based on 34 reviews.
Roger Ebert awarded it his highest rating of four stars, describing the story as "such a joyous and audacious achievement it deserves comparison with his [Robert Altman's] very best movies". Ebert specifically noted a quality of the film that many Altman films share: a focus on character rather than plot. Emanuel Levy, an independent critic, gave Gosford Park an A minus rating. He described one of its themes as "illuminating a society and a way of life on the verge of extinction", placing the interwar setting as an integral part of the film's class study. However, he notes that because Altman is an independent observer of the society he portrays in the film, it does not have the biting qualities of his previous social commentaries such as Short Cuts, set in the director's home country of the United States. Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader called it a "Masterpiece".
Gosford Park's cinematography was a focus of several critics. CNN's Paul Clinton praised Andrew Dunn's camera work, describing it as "lush and rich; the camera glides up and down the stairs of the grand estate, the period look is beautifully crafted." Ed Gonzalez of the Internet publication Slant Magazine writes that "Altman's camera is the star of Gosford Park" and that the film's cinematography is used as an aid to its storytelling. Michael Phillips placed Gosford Park at number nine on his list of Best Films of the Decade. The film was placed at 82 on Slant Magazine's list of best films of the 2000s.
Gosford Park was nominated for 61 different awards following its release, winning 25 of them. There were seven nominations for Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director, both of which it lost to A Beautiful Mind); Fellowes won the Best Original Screenplay. At the 55th British Academy Film Awards, the film was nominated for nine British Academy awards, winning Best Film and Best Costume Design (Jenny Beavan). Mirren, Smith and Watson were all nominated for Best European Actress at the European Film Awards. The film received five nominations at the 59th Golden Globe Awards; Altman won the Award for 'Best Director'.
At the 8th Screen Actors Guild Awards Mirren won 'Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role' and the ensemble cast collectively won 'Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture'. The film won four more 'Best Cast' awards from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Florida Film Critics Circle, and Online Film Critics Society. Fellowes received recognition for the film's screenplay from the Writers Guild of America, where he won the Best Original Screenplay award. The film's score composer, Patrick Doyle received two nominations for his work. Doyle was nominated for Composer of the Year from the American Film Institute and he won the award for Soundtrack Composer of the Year from the World Soundtrack Awards.
The region 1 DVD of Gosford Park was released on 25 June 2002, with the region 2 release on 3 December 2002. The critic Ed Gonzalez reviewed the DVD negatively, calling the picture quality "atrocious on the small screen", going on to say that "the image quality of this video transfer is downright lousy from start to finish". However, reviewer Robert Mack generally wrote favourably of the picture quality, noting excellence in the shots' detail and sharpness and the lack of compression artefacts, but describing an unfavourable darkness to scenes filmed within the manor house. Both reviewers commented positively on the film's score and soundtrack. Gonzalez wrote that "Gosford Park sounds amazing for a film so dialogue-dependent" and Mack that "the audio transfer is about as good as it can get on a movie of this style".
Patrick Doyle composed the film's score. Doyle said that it can take him up to six months to create a film score, but Altman asked him to write and compose the music for Gosford Park in less than five weeks. Doyle recorded the soundtrack at the London Air-Edel Recording Studios in October 2001. The soundtrack also features six original songs by composer and playwright, Ivor Novello. The actor who portrays Novello in the film, Jeremy Northam, sings all the songs and his brother, Christopher, accompanies him on the piano. The soundtrack was released on 15 January 2002.
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