Gosford Park: Downton Abbey Murder Mystery

I first watched Gosford Park about ten years ago, I’d guess. I enjoyed it, but wasn’t blown away. It didn’t help that I watched it from ten feet away on a 15 inch television (as I recall)–I couldn’t tell what was going on half the time, and it’s a Robert Altman movie, which means there’s a lot of dialogue going on, with lots of people talking over each other.

If I didn’t love love love it the first time, why was I returning to it? Well, the writer of the script is one Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey. (He won an Oscar for his writing on the film.) And Gosford Park stars Maggie Smith. It was nominated for 6 other Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, two Supporting Actresses (Smith and Helen Mirren), Art Direction, and Costume Design. After I went so gaga for Downton, I decided to give Gosford another try.

This time, I watched it on a 42 inch screen, with the subtitles on.

I loved it.

A group of aristocrats gather at a swanky house in the country for a lovely weekend. They bring their servants. Someone dies. But I have to emphasize that it really isn’t a murder mystery. It’s not about finding out whodunnit. Case in point? (And I don’t think I’m spoiling too much here.) When the inspector finally shows up, it’s clear he’s an absolute idiot. He does nothing right at all. It’s as if Altman is deliberately showing the audience, “See? I don’t care about finding out who did it. Not really.” And that makes a key difference for me. The movie is about exploring character relationships and the contrasts in social status between the two classes. It’s got all the Downton elements I love–period details that set it apart. But it has a much more modern feel. Yes, it takes place in 1932 or so, but I just mean . . . Downton feels like an old school drama at times. This is a current drama. Hard for me to pinpoint, but the feel is definitely different.

It’s extremely well executed, and wonderfully layered. I really liked the ending, even though it’s not the ending we’re trained to expect. Just a great movie. Four stars.

For those of you who keep tabs on these sorts of things, it is rated R, but Altman himself on the DVD commentary said that he just threw in some F words to get the rating because he “didn’t want kids watching it.” There’s nothing in here that would really shock anyone. Some hanky panky here and there, with nothing really shown.

Leave a comment