With all the British period drama trappings of Michael Engler’s Downton Abbey (2019) as well as the “whodunit” flare of Rian Johnson’s Knives Out (2019), Robert Altman’s Gosford Park (2001) is just as relevant to contemporary cinephiles as it was at the turn of the millennium.
If you don’t know what to watch next, Gosford Park is available to stream on Netflix.
The mystery black comedy social satire won Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay out of seven nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress for Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith.
The auteur also co-produced the ensemble picture.
Set in November 1932 England, industrialist Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) invites his extended family over for a weekend shooting party at their country estate, Gosford Park. Everybody is a suspect when the loathsome Sir William is murdered.
Alternating between the perspectives of the wealthy guests and their impoverished servants, who all have secrets to hide, this comedy of manners is as much about its setting as it is its mystery.
Altman’s signature style is more auditory than it is visual, and Gosford Park ought to have been nominated for its sound design.
As with his MASH (1970), the cacophonous dialogue overlaps to a sometimes unintelligible degree, which is not only true to life (seldom do people wait for cues to take their turn speaking) but also externalizes the chaos of the setting.
For MASH, it’s wartime Korea; in Gosford Park, it’s the imperialist West.
The script deftly deconstructs postindustrial-capitalist classist themes through the microcosm of an Agatha Christie murder mystery. It is ethically written, too – victim and perpetrator alike get the justice they deserve in the end.
For its genre, though, the editing is less than ideal. At close to two and a half hours, the runtime runs counter to a genre that values tight pacing. Every scene in a thriller must lead into the next; Gosford Park was not recognized for its editing, and it shows.
But the scene-padding in Gosford Park develops its cast of characters literarily, and if it’s too much of anything, it’s too much of a good thing.