Written by: Julian Fellowes, based on an idea by Robert Altman and Bob Balaban
Directed by: Robert Altman
Starring: Maggie Smith, Kelly MacDonald, Kristen Scott Thomas, Alan Bates, Helen Mirren, Emily Watson
- Feature Commentary with director Altman, production designer Stephen Altman, and producer David Levy
- Screenwriter’s commentary with Fellowes
- Deleted Scenes with optional commentary
- Featurette: “The Making of Gosford Park”
- Featurette: “The Authenticity of Gosford Park”
- Q&A session with cast and filmmakers
- Theatrical trailer
- Selected cast and filmmaker filmographies
Released by: Universal
My Advice: Rent it.
[ad#longpost]The time: 1930s. The setting: a large English estate. The occasion: a weekend family and friends get-together and shooting party. This being late in the era of the large country manor, we are introduced to the workings of the lavish upstairs, with the family members and their friends, as well as the downstairs, with their great numbers of servants who see to the inner workings of the household. Unfortunately for those anxious to be getting home again, the master of the house, William McCordle (Michael Gambon) is murdered, and there are suspects aplenty. While the police are examining the upstairs, a young lady’s maid, Mary (MacDonald) has her eyes on the secrets of the downstairs hive.
I really enjoyed this film, which I can’t say for two of the people with whom I first saw it (they fell asleep), and so I know that it’s just not for everyone. If you enjoy genre films and really detailed period pieces with incredibly talented casts, I think you might like it. This DVD has a lot to offer in the way of features, but before you start the commentary or featurettes, you might want to sit down and watch the film again if you want the details, because there’s no way you got everything the first time–a point that almost everyone in the commentaries makes. I like picking apart the film, trying to get all of the plot points and character agendas straight, which apparently was the intention of the director, among others. I don’t know that everyone will enjoy that, however, and I think that the audience is rather limited because of Altman’s insistence on complexity in the film, and that he wants you to have to see it twice to understand most of what’s going on. He actually admitted in his commentary that he put enough cursing in the film to ensure that it got an R rating, so that no fourteen-year old boys would try to see it, because it’s not the kind of film for them. Does he really think that any fourteen-year old boy would be at all interested in a period film of this kind, even if it were rated PG? I think not.
And moving on with my confused feelings towards the intentions of the director, the commentary with Altman left much to be desired. His son, the production designer, related much more interesting facts and stories than he did, and often prompted him because he wasn’t saying much of interest. I did learn a bit from the commentary, such as the fact that the birds shot during the hunting scene actually were shot during the hunting season on film and then frozen to be used in subsequent scenes. However, most of the interesting bits of the commentary came from son Stephen. The writer’s commentary, however, was very interesting. Fellowes had quite a lot to say about the world of the film, apparently having family brought up in the upper social spheres of England (some of his aunts were the basis for Maggie Smith‘s character), and he kept my rapt attention throughout his spiel. The deleted scenes were also interesting, and one could see why most had been cut–either for redundancy or plot points that didn’t make it into the film. It did give a better view of the depth of some of the characters, however.
“The Making of Gosford Park” featurette was pretty standard. It disappointed me in two areas, however. The first is the fact that the actual production elements of the film (sets, costumes, etc.) were rarely if ever mentioned. This surprised me considering it’s a period film and I had just listened to commentary that mentioned huge sets being built for the downstairs part of the film–not to mention a manor done over for the upstairs part of the film, among other things. I would have thought that they would have wanted to champion what for me was one of the strongest elements of the film: the overall look of the world. The second thing that irked me was the fact that it started to become more and more the glorification of the divine Robert Altman. I’m sure he’s a well-respected and talented director, but the making of featurette to me should include more than a few blurbs from actors, some scenes on the set during blocking, and the director talking about his work a whole lot. Where are the other people involved in the making of the film?
Some of this was redeemed with the “Authenticity of Gosford Park” featurette. They discussed at length using technical advisors–men and women who had actually been in service during the time in which the film takes place. There were short interviews with each of them, and with the actors who had consulted with them about how to play their characters accurately. Again, however, there was hardly any mention of the authenticity of sets or costumes, or much else that didn’t relate directly to the acting and directing process. It was a neat featurette, just listening to the real butler’s and cook’s reaction to the film and the world from which they came.
The question and answer session was really interesting, if for no other reason than that the actors and filmmakers were speaking without a featurette editor sitting there to let one sentence out of ten make it to a final cut. It seemed to be a much more genuine examination of what was discussed, with audience members as well as a moderator asking questions of the panel.
Overall, this was a very fascinating examination of the film. I wish there had been more of an exploration of the production elements, as I have said, but some of that was covered in the two commentaries. If you enjoyed this film once, do see it again–there’s more to be had on the second go-round and the features take you even deeper into the film and its intentions. A solid rental, unless you want to own it to dissect the plots and intrigues even more, or if you’re a huge Altman fan.