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Gosford Park (2001, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon)

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As he showed in such films as Nashville and M*A*S*H , Robert Altman is one of the handful of directors comfortable working with large casts yet giving each actor space to create their character but the Oscar and BAFTA-winning Gosford Park is possibly the finest example. A cast to die for gather at the eponymous country house for a weekend’s shooting in inter-war Britain.

The hosts are Sir William McCordle and his wife Sylvia (Michael Gambon and Kristin Scott-Thomas) and guests include Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam), Lord Stockbridge (Charles Dance) and Sylvia’s sister Louisa (Geraldine Somerville). All the guests are accompanied by the servants, including Ryan Phillippe and Clive Owen, who swell the staff headed by butler Jennings (Alan Bates) and housekeeper Mrs Wilson (Helen Mirren). As the weekend progresses, so Altman deftly sketches in the backgrounds of the characters, both upstairs and downstairs, painting a picture of snobbery, adultery, unrequited love and – murder, as Sir William is found dead. Enter Inspector Thompson (Stephen Fry), a comic mix of Clouseau and Lestrade who has to have the clues pointed out to him.

The cast are all superb but special honours go to Maggie Smith as Sir Williams’ sister Constance, whose acerbic one-liners are a sheer delight as is, of course, her interpretation of the character. But even Richard E Grant, in a minor role as a footman, creates his character with a handful of lines and body language that lesser actors would need an entire film to achieve. Altman used two cameras during group scenes to achieve a more natural feel and also ‘miked’ up each actor to create the genuine overlapping dialogue of any group. Superb to look at and with flawless performances, this is an absolute delight of a film from one of cinema’s greatest directors.

production details
UK | 137 minutes | 2001

Director: Robert Altman
Writer: Julian Fellowes, based on an idea by Bob Balaban and Robert Altman

cast
Helen Mirren as Mrs. Wilson
Clive Owen as Robert Parks
Maggie Smith as Constance Trentham
Geraldine Somerville as Louisa Stockbridge
Jeremy Northam as Ivor Novello
Kristin Scott Thomas as Sylvia McCordle
Tom Hollander as Anthony Meredith
Michael Gambon as William McCordle
Kelly Macdonald as Mary Maceachran
Eileen Atkins as Mrs. Croft
Emily Watson as Elsie
Alan Bates as Jennings
Richard E. Grant as George
Ryan Phillippe as Henry Denton
Trent Ford as Jeremy Blond
Stephen Fry as Inspector Thompson
Charles Dance as Lord Raymond Stockbridge
Camilla Rutherford as Isobel McCordle
Adrian Scarborough as Barnes
Derek Jacobi as Probert
Claudie Blakley as Mabel Nesbitt
Bob Balaban as Morris Weissman
Jeremy Swift as Arthur
James Wilby as Freddie Nesbitt
Lucy Cohu as Lottie
Laurence Fox as Rupert Standish
Natasha Wightman as Lavinia Meredith
Teresa Churcher as Bertha
Sophie Thompson as Dorothy
Frances Low as Sarah

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