Gosford Park

‘He is not a servant, worse, he is an actor’ says a man’s man in the underground of the sprawling country mansion Gosford Park when he finds out that a servant amongst them is not. This pretty much sums up Robert Altman’s brilliantly directed multi-plotted reliable and predictable English tale. Gosford Park’s grandeur is matched in scale only by the moral corruption of its occupants. A house so clearly divided by social classes it feels like two separate worlds that interact only professionally and carnally. The later almost taking the prominent moral theme of the picture.

‘Gosford Park’ will go down in the history of movie making as an achievement for several reasons. It is an ensemble cast of British stage and film actors rarely ever seen in one act. It is funny, poignant, witty and alas predictable. Everyone has something to hide and they are often not doing such a good job at it. Murder is in the offing. It may be that Mr. Altman ( Written by Julian Fellows based on an idea by Mr. Altman and American actor Bob Balaban) has put so much that is British in this movie that we are more of less certain of what all is going to happen. None the less, the conclusion is crafty and not entirely lacking in shock value even though it is not a surprise.

Maggie Smith ( Prof. McGonnagall from Harry Potter) plays the best role of her life. Her acting is almost beyond brilliant. She plays a typically narrow minded British upper class women who frown at the word ‘OK’ and can’t seem to understand why anybody would want to be in the lowly profession of movie making. Kelly McDonald as her Scottish secretary is good too. She is curious yet cautious and probably the only character in the movie devoid of sin.

Of the ensemble cast, the American Ryan Philleppe’s Henry is a careless lothario spreading himself around purely for pleasure. He stands out for being ridiculous in more ways than one. He is one of the most overrated actors around. Stephen Fry is totally wasted as a bumbling detective who’s every move, or the lack of it, could be told before it unfolds. Emily Watson as the high headed Elsie, head housemaid, plays a rather strong character. She is ready for fun and is smart and yet that leads her to her own undoing.

Gosford Park wins where you would expect it to win – sharp dialogue and well built characters. It fails where you would expect it to fail – overly confusing subplots and lose storyline.