Gosford Park might be the preeminent Manor House Murder Movie in my heart. I’m a little uncertain about giving it this title because I dearly, deeply love Clue and the recent BBC miniseries of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, but Gosford Park manages to combine several elements of both of them, plus only the best bits of Downton Abbey. It’s a standout in the field.
Julian Fellowes deservedly won the 2001 Academy Award Winner for Best Original Screenplay for this script, and I’m not sure what I’m more surprised by: that it was fully original, or that he didn’t have the good sense to quit while he was ahead. Honestly, I’m pretty sure he used up 70% of his ideas about interwar period English class relations in a big old house just in this one script. It’s like a highly concentrated version of however many seasons Downton has lagged on for, and much like how I prefer Thomas Hardy’s bleakness distilled into poem form, I definitely prefer this Fellowes.
And, you still get Dame Maggie Smith! Along with every other actor in Britain. Seriously, all of them, and all in top form. The majority of the characters in this movie are hilariously savage, impeccable burns right and left, and yet somehow you still get blindsided with real aching human drama in the midst of it all. It’s wonderful entertainment. I’ve watched this movie three times now, and every time I’ve laughed from beginning to end, only broken up by freshly shocked gasps. And as much as Gosford Park is trafficking in the sort of fun that’s built on the inherently fucked up British class system, said fucked up-ness is examined with a bite as sharp as Dame Maggie’s. No one gets off in the movie. Even your faves are problematic, and their problematicism will be commented on, and I really appreciate that. It’s remarkably rich in nuance, for something that could have simply been a landed gentry murder mystery and still been a treat.
This is not my idea, and for the life of me I can’t find where I’d read it or who said it, but it has been proposed somewhere that it might have taken an American director (Robert Altman) to portray a certain sort English society the way Gosford Park does, similarly to how it took an English director (Sam Mendes) to do what was done with American Beauty. I feel like there might be something to this. If nothing else, it’s interesting to think about with the through-plot of an American director researching his next Hollywood movie.
Anyhow, come for the amazing 1930s frocks and plentiful possibilities for femslash, if nothing else. Or simply Bob Balaban, the token American, bleating “Hello” out of a car in the rain, which my sister and I have been mimicking for weeks now.