Gosford Park is a Robert Altman movie, and was considered somewhat of a return to form for the director when it was made in 2001. That’s an unfair assessment considering the freewheeling nature of the movies he made, which meant they were always hit or miss. He worked in a lot of different genres, told vastly different stories, and was very productive, with a film roughly every other year. He started the ‘90s with two great films, The Player and Short Cuts, but the late 90s were not the kindest to Altman. One of his least personal films, the John Grisham adaptation Gingerbread, Cookie’s Fortune and Dr T and the Women, one of his least acclaimed films, had preceded Gosford Park.
It’s set in an English country house where a dinner party is being held. There’s a murder, and of course then there’s a whodunnit. You’ve seen this movie before… but it’s one of Altman’s last big ensemble films, which makes it a bit different. The script is very much in the Agatha Christie vein, with a bit of the French satirical comedy of manners The Rules of the Game thrown in. Julian Fellowes, now well known for Downton Abbey, wrote the script (in fact, Downton Abbey was originally commissioned as a Gosford Park spin-off, and there’s quite a bit of overlap between the two casts.)
Altman had made Images in the UK early on in his career, but Gosford Park was his first time back in England in several decades. It has a stunning cast of mostly British actors. There is a big class dynamic, with the upstairs/downstairs scheme showing how the upper class are completely dependent on their servants, all wrapped up in the mystery plot. The big standout is of course Maggie Smith, who is joined upstairs by Kristin Scott Thomas. Below stairs are Richard Grant, who’s fantastic as the butler, a young Clive Owen, and Kelly MacDonald.
Gosford Park was actually one of Altman’s most successful films other than M*A*S*H, which is bizarre, as it’s sort of an odd film out in his career and really one of his weaker efforts. Altman is a very American filmmaker, and when he stretches beyond that it doesn’t always work. It would have been very interesting to know where he would have gone if he was still working today, as his kinds of films would be impossible to finance in the current era. Television might have suited the sprawling narratives Altman often had, but his tendency to work within but subvert genre conventions is what made his work so good. Translating that to a 10-part Netflix series would have constrained his best impulses.
It’s a good movie, but I’d leave it ‘til after you’ve seen Altman’s 70s-early 90s work. The Blu-Ray features a brand-new 4K transfer from Arrow, three commentary tracks (Altman and company, Julian Fellowes, and Jeff Andrew and David Thompson). Andrew provides an intro for the film. There are also new cast and crew interviews, old featurettes, a Q&A session with Altman and cast members, fifteen deleted scenes with commentary by Altman, and a booklet with new writing by Sheila O’Malley and an archive interview with Robert Altman.