If you're appetite is for a typical Agatha Christie murder mystery, it… MoreIf you're appetite is for a typical Agatha Christie murder mystery, it may be best to look somewhere else. As the whodunit aspect takes a back seat to the spontaneous interactions of the characters, which are split between the filthy rich and the hired help. The story is completely non-linear. The script is literally wall-to-wall character studies, with the players moving from scene-to-scene like real people moving from room-to-room. What they do and how they got to this place is revealed only incidentally, leaving the audience to speculate as to the characters' back stories. And there is plenty of overlapping dialog to add to the ambiguity. It feels more like the viewer is spying on these people rather than watching a typical movie presentation.
Two dozen characters are thrust together by way of a holiday weekend at a large English manor. The aristocrats are very busy, dressing, gossiping and shooting at harmless birds by day, eating luxurious meals, playing games, and enjoying entertainment from a Hollywood movie star by night. They probably need some relaxation from all that work. All the while the servants are preparing food, washing clothes needlessly at night, and polishing their employers' watches with barely a moment to enjoy a meal or other extra-curricular activity themselves. But the servants and aristocracy share something in common: they all have their own little stories which are revealed in bits and pieces through unselfconscious dialog.
In Gosford Park, the stories of the characters are never announced but only hinted. Even by the moment of the murder, which occurs about two-thirds through the story, the viewer is only beginning to understand some things about the characters, but much is left unsaid and unrevealed. Thus, the story is entirely cast-driven. The ensemble is made up of name talent, but no "big" Hollywood stars, which is quite a breath of fresh air from the typical star-driven offerings that Hollywood is constantly cranking out. Instead, the cast is comprised of recognizable character actors who are often in supporting roles in the larger-budgeted Hollywood films. These people are some of the best actors in the business. It seems somehow fitting that they would come together for this project. One other notable aspect is that some of the best actors play the servant parts, such as Helen Mirren (academy award-winner) who plays Mrs Wilson, the head woman servant, the late Alan Bates (renowned British actor) as Mr Jennings, the head of all servants, and Derek Jacobi of Caedfel fame as Mr Probert, another butler/servant of the Lord's manor. Mind you, Maggie Smith steals the show playing the worst of the aristocrats, Countess Constance. Probably the best line of the movie: "I haven't a snobbish bone in my body" whilst she has her maid on bended knee polishing her shoes.
In the end, Gosford Park is a outstanding film, with an unexpected and sobering ending that forces you to think rather than feel fully satisfied in an escapist sort of way, like an Agatha Christie presentation. This is not to be missed if you're into cutting edge film-making particularly of the overlapping dialog variety and most significantly, top at the notch acting.
***1/2 out of 4 stars