Main cast: Maggie Smith (Constance Trentham), Michael Gambon (William McCordle), Kristin Scott Thomas (Sylvia McCordle), Camilla Rutherford (Isobel McCordle), Charles Dance (Raymond Stockbridge), Geraldine Somerville (Louisa Stockbridge), Tom Hollander (Anthony Meredith), Natasha Wightman (Lavinia Meredith), Jeremy Northam (Ivor Novello), Bob Balaban (Morris Weissman), James Wilby (Freddie Nesbitt), Claudie Blakley (Mabel Nesbitt), Laurence Fox (Rupert Standish), Trent Ford (Jeremy Blond), Ryan Phillippe (Henry Denton), Stephen Fry (Inspector Thompson), Ron Webster (Constable Dexter), Kelly Macdonald (Mary Maceachran), Clive Owen (Robert Parks), Helen Mirren (Mrs Wilson), Eileen Atkins (Mrs Croft), and Emily Watson (Elsie)
Director: Robert Altman
Like a riveting session of the game Cluedo, populated by so many sly and oh-so-interesting characters, Gosford Park is truly a brilliant light-hearted romp of mystery, gossip, murder, and backstabbing. With an ensemble cast of over 30 people jostling for the limelight, this movie nonetheless manages to entertain most successfully.
It all began when aristocrats William McCordle and his trophy wife Sylvia invite their posh friends and relatives over for a hunting-and-dinner weekend over at their place, Gosford Park. World War One is raging outside, but in this pleasant English countryside, life goes on in a most pleasant, idyllic way.
I can say that the main character, or the audience’s placeholder, of this movie is the nice, sensitive maid Mary Maceachran. She works for the cantankerous snob Constance Trentham, the aunt of William and Sylvia. As the guests arrive, Gosford Park skilfully weaves through both the lives of the people above the stairs and the people below the stairs. From the lowest butler to the highest lord, everyone has secrets and intrigue, and everything implodes when William McCordle is murdered. Who did it? The butler… or the wife?
It is impossible for me for the detail every lush and charming tiny little things that captivate me so utterly about this movie. Maggie Smith is glowingly hilarious and she gets some of the best lines here (check out those scenes where she rips into Jeremy Northam’s character). Emily Watson is a scene-stealer every time she appears. She plays Elsie, a maid that Mary befriends who is also having an affair with William. The American movie producer Morris Weissman (played with dead-on self-absorbed obliviousness by Bob Balaban) is wonderful as a self-absorbed Charlie Chan movie producer who brings out the best of snobbery from both the Brits and the Americans. There’s a homoerotic undercurrent between Morris and his mysterious valet Henry Denton (Ryan Phillippe, who manages to hold his own among the most esteemed cast) in one scene, I wonder if there’s something more to meets the eye among those two. Hmmm.
Along the way there is the stiff housekeeper Mrs Wilson, whose secrets slowly unfurl – one could argue that she is the most complex character here. And Helen Mirren who plays Mrs Wilson is as wonderful as always.
And Jeremy Northam – is that really him singing? Be still, my heart. Oh, be still.
The main anchors of this movie, Mary and Elsie play each other off very well as the idealistic and naive maid as opposed to Elsie’s cynical personality. In the end though, Elsie gets her own (hilariously pulled off – you go, girl!) happy ending and an intriguing possibility with Hollywood and the sex fiend Henry Denton, while Mary’s repressed romance with the under stairs manservant Robert is sweet and heartbreaking all at once.
Filled with so many minute pleasures that I could savor again and again, Gosford Park is an excellent lighthearted and witty story that is everything wonderful about British cinema. I am truly sorry when this movie ends, because a part of me wishes that the weekend party at Gosford Park will last a little longer. Bitchy, snazzy, erudite, and oh-so-witty, this movie is a must-see for all the right reasons.