Brother Emsworth Tue Jan 15 21:45:26 2002|
Gosford Park - 10
Well, the other day, the aged parent and I managed to catch a late afternoon showing of GOSFORD PARK, directed by Robert Altman of M*A*S*H* fame, which had just opened up in El Paso. Of course, I don't get out to the movies as often as the esteemed meta-cartoonist seems to, but this was definitely the best recent film I'd seen in some time!
Of course, I've long had a fondness for the mystery genre, particularly whodunnits of the genteel British country house weekend/drawing room interrogation variety, and this film certainly fits the bill. However, the film is also a wonderful period piece, with fine attention to historical detail and accuracy. Beyond that, there's also an "Upsairs, Downstairs" style examination of the social classes, not merely the social codes and snobbery and distinctions between the aristocracy and their servants, but among those elites and particularly among the servants (in one scene, the servants are seated for their own meal according to the rank and status of their respective masters.)
As with any whodunnit (print or film), there is admittedly a large cast of characters, such that it can at times be difficult to keep track of who is who. The film is also rapidly paced, particularly in the first reels, with rapid cuts from the activities of the servants to those of the "elite," with many rapid conversations and situations developing in both areas. However, as compared to many other cinematic mysteries, the film is as much about characters and relationships and structure as it is about who actually did it (and it's some time before the actual crime takes place, in fact.) Though a few characters seemed underdeveloped or extraneous, most succeeded in coming across as people in their own right, and not merely suspects, and several characters and relationships between the film garnered my sympathy and even affected my emotions. (In fact, I found the denouement, while perhaps in some ways reliant on the long-arm of coincidence, surprisingly moving.)
The acting was also superb, in my opinion, and the cast included such British notables as Helen Mirren (as the competent housekeeper), Alan Bates (as the inevitable butler), Stephen Fry (in a relatively small role as the Scotland Yard inspector), Derek Jacobi (as the faithful valet), and particularly, Maggie Smith, who has some of the best lines and steals nearly every scene she's in, as the wonderfully blunt Countess of Trentham. The entire cast seemed well-chosen, however.
Patrick Doyle's score is evocative and catchy, and even rather hummable (and interestingly, the musicians who performed on the soundtrack were awarded well-deserved individual screen credit, near the very end of the closing titles.)
And, one aspect of the film which was quite a bonus for me, one of the guests, a certain Morris Weissman (played by American actor Bob Balaban, who also contributed to the script, I believe) is in England to gather research material for the next Charlie Chan film, which he is producing! In fact, the Charlie Chan films are mentioned at least 5 or 6 times in the film in passing, thus demonstrating that Chan shall never fully disappear from our cultural consciousness!