out of 4
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Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4
Robert Altman's GOSFORD PARK goes down as easily as a warm brandy after one of
the seven course dinners popular at the enormous English country house where the
story is set. Although there's a murder, not much happens in this tale of
upstairs and downstairs. This isn't a bad thing as it's Altman's first
completely satisfying film since SHORT CUTS, admittedly a much better picture.
With his wide connections, Altman assembles a very large, talented cast (Eileen
Atkins, Alan Bates, Charles Dance, Stephen Fry, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi,
Kelly Macdonald, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, Clive Owen, Ryan Phillippe,
Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emily Watson and James Wilby), who
realistically recreate the subtle bickering and rigid manners of 1932 England.
Watching these actors is sheer delight.
When the guests and their servants arrive for a weekend of shooting, the ritual
begins. Downstairs are where most of the rules are in order. The servants
receive new names for the duration of their visit. They are called by the names
of their masters so as to avoid confusion. The pecking order at dinner is
strictly observed both upstairs and downstairs. Your (or your masters' in the
case of servants) position in society determines your precise position at the
table. Can't have an earl given priority over a marquis. Or is it the other
way round? The place settings upstairs would leave most Americans completely
dumbfounded. Each diner is entitled to no less than ten eating utensils and
five glasses. It wasn't that long ago that their royal ancestors got along
quite nicely eating solely with their hands.
Altman places bottles of poison everywhere to clue us into what will happen.
Actually this costume drama rather resembles the board game of Clue. In
addition to poison, there's also a missing knife, a stray bullet shot and other
hints at upcoming events. I didn't notice a lead pipe or a rope, but they may
have been there as well.
A murder isn't the only shocking event that occurs. An American filmmaker,
Morris Weissman, Esq. (Bob Balaban), in the country to research his film CHARLIE
CHAN IN LONDON -- set at an English country house and not in London -- riles the
household with his habits. Not only is he an unheard of vegetarian, he is also
inclined to carry on long conversations on the telephone. How gauche!
The witty film, which doesn't contain a single prima donna performance from the
ensemble cast, has but one sin, a common one with this year's crop of Christmas
movies. It's too long. Twenty minutes less would have been just about right.
GOSFORD PARK runs 2:17. It is rated R for some language and brief sexuality and
would be acceptable for kids around 12 and up.
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes
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