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Gosford Park
Directed by Robert Altman
Produced by Robert Altman
Bob Balaban
David Levy
Written by Julian Fellowes
Starring Eileen Atkins
Bob Balaban
Alan Bates
Stephen Fry
Michael Gambon
Richard E. Grant
Derek Jacobi
Kelly Macdonald
Helen Mirren
Jeremy Northam
Clive Owen
Ryan Philippe
Maggie Smith
Kristin Scott Thomas
Emily Watson
Laurence Fox
Music by Patrick Doyle
Cinematography Andrew Dunn
Editing by Tim Squyres
Distributed by USA Films
Release date(s) 7 November 2001 (LFF)
26 December 2001 (limited)
4 January 2002
1 February 2001
Running time 137 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $19,800,000[1]
Gross revenue $87,754,044[1]

Gosford Park is a 2001 English-language film directed by Robert Altman. As usual for the director, it features an ensemble cast. The film was very well-received by critics and received a number of major film awards.

Contents

Summary

The film is set in 1932 at an English country house. A party of wealthy Britons and Americans accompanied by their servants gather at the home of Sir William McCordle for a shooting weekend. A murder occurs in the middle of the night, the film presenting the murder from both the servants' and the guests' perspective. But rather than a simple mystery to be solved, the film uses the whodunit format to create a drama showcasing the tensions of the British class system. Many intertwining subplots detail the complex relationships among the characters, both above stairs (the wealthy guests) and below (the servants).

Plot

Day 1 - Arrival of guests

In November 1932, the snobbish Constance, Countess of Trentham and her timid Scottish lady's maid Mary Maceachran travel to Gosford Park for a weekend shooting party. On the way, they encounter another party also traveling to Gosford Park: the matinée idol Ivor Novello, his friend, Hollywood film producer Morris Weissman and Henry Denton, Morris Weissman’s valet. Upon arrival, the guests are greeted by Sir William McCordle, his wife, Lady Sylvia McCordle, and their daughter Isobel.

The “upstairs” guests also include Lady Sylvia's sisters Lady Stockbridge and Lady Lavinia Meredith; their husbands, Raymond, Lord Stockbridge and Commander Anthony Meredith; the Honourable Freddie Nesbitt and his "common" wife Mabel; Isobel's suitor Lord Rupert Standish and his friend Mr. Jeremy Blond.

The Nesbitts’ are noticeably without a lady’s maid or valet. Mr. Nesbitt married her for her money, all of which he has by now spent. Mr. Nesbitt is blackmailing Isobel with some past secret of hers in an effort to gain her assistance in procuring employment from Sir William.

Commander Meredith and his wife are also in financial difficulty; a scheme to provide boots to the Sudanese army is the Commander’s last chance to avoid financial ruin. Sir William intends to rescind his agreement to invest, and had planned to disclose that to the Commander the following week. Commander Meredith’s insistence in bringing up the matter causes Sir William’s intentions to be revealed early. Lady Lavinia is angry with both of her sisters, who will not use their influence to change Sir William’s mind.

Lady Trentham receives an allowance from Sir William, who comments to his wife that he intends to stop paying. Lady Sylvia warns her aunt about this prior to dinner on the second night.

Mr. Weissman, who produces Charlie Chan mystery movies, is conducting pre-production business for his newest film, “Charlie Chan in London”. He annoys the English guests by placing several “urgent” calls to California. Mr. Novello, who is Sir William’s second cousin, agreed to provide musical entertainment in the evenings in exchange for allowing Mr. Weissman to come and observe a shooting weekend; Mr. Weissman intends to use his observations to make the new film’s setting more realistic, as it will also be set at an English estate.

The “downstairs” party for the weekend includes the servant staff of Gosford Park and the ladies’ maids and valets of the visitors. The notable characters are as follows:

Character Name Referred To As Position Notes
Mrs. Jane Wilson (née Parks) Mrs. Wilson Gosford Park Housekeeper Previously a factory worker/conquest of Sir William McCordle; mother of Robert Parks
Mrs. Elizabeth Croft (née Parks) Mrs. Croft, “Croftie”, Lizzie Gosford Park Head Cook Previously a factory cook/conquest of Sir William McCordle; sister of Mrs. Wilson
Mr. Jennings (first name unknown) Jennings Gosford Park Butler Conscientious objector during World War I
Mr. Probert (first name unknown) Probert Sir William McCordle’s valet Loyal to Sir William McCordle & devoted to his duties
Lewis (first name unknown) Lewis Lady Sylvia McCordle’s lady’s maid Loyal to Lady Sylvia McCordle almost to a fault; described by Elsie to place more importance on Lady Sylvia’s needs than her own mother’s
Elsie (surname unknown) Elsie Gosford Park housemaid Acting lady’s maid to Miss Isobel McCordle & Mrs. Mabel Nesbitt; Sir William McCordle’s lover
George (surname unknown) George Gosford Park 1st footman Acting valet to Lord Rupert Standish; insouciant, sarcastic & rakish; draws criticism from Jennings and Probert for his lack of zeal or seriousness about his job
Arthur (surname unknown) Arthur Gosford Park footman Acting valet to Mr. Blond; implied to be homosexual; makes several attempts to become acting valet to Mr. Novello
Dorothy (surname unknown) Dorothy Gosford Park still-room maid Duties place her under both Mrs. Croft and Mrs. Wilson’s jurisdiction; unrequitedly in love with Mr. Jennings
Bertha (surname unknown) Bertha Gosford Park kitchen maid Accepts two assignations with Mr. Blond during the weekend; implied to be promiscuous in general
Mr. Robert Parks Parks, Mr. Stockbridge Lord Stockbridge’s valet Raised in an orphanage outside London; illegitimate child of Mrs. Jane Wilson & Sir William McCordle
Miss Mary Maceachren Mary, Miss Trentham The Countess of Trentham’s lady's maid Called Mary rather than Maceachran because Lady Trentham cannot pronounce it; recently promoted to lady's maid
Mr. Henry Denton Mr. Denton, Mr. Weissman Mr. Morris Weissman & Mr. Ivor Novello’s valet Actually an American actor; pretending to be a Scottish valet to infiltrate & observe servants as part of Weissman’s film research; implied to be bisexual & Weissman’s lover
Mr. Barnes Barnes Commander Anthony Meredith’s valet Contemptuous of his employer’s perceived character weaknesses

Mary and Parks are instantly attracted to one another upon first meeting. Parks subtly flirts with Mary during many conversations over their duties.

Denton and his poor Scottish accent is noticed by the servant staff. He asks a number of questions which gives the other servants pause, including who among them had parents in service, and whether or not it influenced their own decision to go into service. Several servants answer, and we learn that Parks was raised in an orphanage outside London.

After she enters the male servants' wing by mistake, Denton attempts to rape Mary in the room he shares with Parks, though Parks interrupts; Denton later arranges an interlude with Lady Sylvia. When going down to wash a shirt late in the evening, Mary interrupts intercourse between Mr. Blond and Bertha.

Day 2 - Hunting party and Sir William's death

The next day is a pheasant hunt: while the gentlemen go out with servants, the ladies linger in Lady Trentham’s rooms. Lady Lavinia upbraids her sisters for not trying harder to prevent Sir William’s investment withdrawal. During luncheon service, Commander Meredith tries to quietly plead with Sir William not to back out of the investment and, in desperation, causes him to drop a glass and alerts the entire party to the argument.

During dinner, Lady Sylvia attacks Sir William’s, implying that he was a profiteer during World War I, that it was out of cowardice that he did not go into the armed services, and that all he is interested in is money and guns. Elsie rises to his defense. Their affair is now out in the open; Elsie leaves the dining room and Sir William angrily closets himself in the library. The other guests adjourn to the drawing room; Lady Sylvia asks Mr. Novello to play while the party divides itself to converse and play bridge. Mrs. Wilson comes into the library bringing Sir William a cup of coffee. He knocks it out of her hand and demands a glass of whisky, which she pours from the bottle on the sideboard.

While Mr. Novello plays, Parks, George, Mr. Nesbitt, and Commander Meredith disappear. Interlaced with images of the servants enjoying the music in many different parts of the house, an unknown man slips out, goes to the library, and stabs Sir William in the chest. All four missing men then reappear: Commander Meredith and Mr. Nesbitt do not offer an explanation of their disappearances; George was ostensibly fetching more milk for the coffee service; Parks was fetching the hot water bottles both he and Mary would need for their employers.

Lady Sylvia asks her sister to convince Sir William to rejoin the party. Lady Stockbridge enters the study and finds Sir William slumped over the desk. Her hysterical screams bring gentry and servants alike to the library.

Inspector Thomson and Constable Dexter arrive to investigate. Dexter notices that little blood is coming from the wound, suggesting that Sir William was already dead when he was stabbed. The servants are informed that the Inspector and constables will not allow anyone to leave, including Elsie, whom Mrs. Wilson orders to remain in her rooms. Denton confesses his real background to Jennings, and it quickly makes the rounds among the servants. Denton does not yet reveal his secret to Lady Sylvia, opting instead to keep her company for one more night.

Day 3 - Police investigation and interviews

The next morning, Lady Sylvia goes for her usual morning ride. Inspector Thomson is surprised by this, clearly expecting that the widow would be prostrate with grief. The other guests sit down to breakfast, including Mr. Denton.

Inspector Thomson questions the guests over the course of the day: Lady Trentham is asked about her allowance, which is no longer in danger of being revoked now that Sir William is dead. Mary is asked if she knows anything about the disagreement over the allowance while Lady Trentham is present; she impresses Lady Trentham by denying any knowledge of the allowance whatsoever and stating that Lady Trentham and Sir William got on well. Barnes has overheard Commander Meredith tell Lady Lavinia that Sir William’s death was a lucky thing for them, as the investment Sir William promised is now secure; he discloses this to Inspector Thomson, who interrogates Meredith at length.

Elsie goes to see Isobel, who shows Elsie a note left by Mr. Nesbitt, threatening to 'tell' Sir William unless she gets him a job. Elsie notes that now he has no one to tell.

Inspector Thomson announces to the servants that the party will be allowed to leave in the morning, as the servants had no “real connection with the dead man” and therefore need not be questioned.

That night Elsie tells Mary that Sir William used to tell her "Carpe diem, seize the day." Inspired by this statement, Mary runs to Parks’s room. She has figured out that Parks must have been the murderer, but cannot fathom what his motive might have been. Parks replies: “Can’t a man hate his own father?”

His explanation dovetails with an exposition given to Bertha by Mrs. Croft earlier in the day: Sir William had been known to seduce the women working in his factories. If a woman became pregnant, Sir William offered two choices: keep the baby and lose your job, or give the baby up and keep your job. Those who gave up their babies were told that the adoptions were being privately arranged by Sir William with good families of his acquaintance. In reality, Sir William was paying off orphanages to take the children and keep their paternity secret. Parks discovered his father’s identity just before his eighteenth birthday. He entered service and worked his way up in an attempt to gain employment with someone in Sir William’s circle of acquaintance and thereby an opportunity to kill him.

Mary asks why Parks chose poison, and Parks replies that he only stabbed him. Mary is relieved, as that means that Parks only stabbed a corpse, and thus is not the murderer after all. Parks then passionately kisses Mary, who returns the embrace, but leaves when the kiss ends.

Day 4 - Mrs. Wilson's secret

The next day finds the party breaking up. Lady Sylvia and Lady Trentham discuss what she intends to do with the house, and the conversation drifts to speculation over why Mrs. Croft and Mrs. Wilson are such bitter enemies. Mary listens as Lady Sylvia tells her aunt that Mrs. Croft used to be a cook in one of William's factories. It is her belief that the tension between them stems from the fact that Mrs. Wilson now outranks Mrs. Croft. Lady Trentham asks if Mrs. Wilson was ever married; Lady Sylvia replies that she must have been, as her name was “Parks or Parker or something like that” when she worked in the factory.

Mary openly asks Mrs. Wilson how she knew Robert was her son. Mrs. Wilson admits that she saw the picture of his mother on his nightstand. She reveals that she and Mrs. Croft are sisters, that the enmity between them really has two causes: 1) that she gave her child up, while her sister kept hers and lost her job; and 2) that when her sister’s child died from scarlet fever, she made Sir William give her sister her job back. Mrs. Croft had never forgiven her sister for either.

Mrs. Wilson explains that she poisoned Sir William in order to save her son; she knew that Parks could only have been there to kill Sir William. By poisoning Sir William herself, she removed the danger: it is not a crime to stab a dead man.

Stepping into her room after a brief word with Dorothy, Mrs. Wilson dissolves into hysterical sobs. Mrs. Croft comes to comfort her and offer forgiveness.

Mary bids farewell to Parks and Elsie. Lady Trentham worries that she or Mary might have to testify at a trial, and speculates with horror over the notion of someone being hanged due to such testimony. Mary echoes Mrs. Wilson’s sentiment, rhetorically asking what purpose it would serve. The movie closes with Lady Sylvia re-entering Gosford Park and Jennings closing the door.

Cast and characters

Upstairs

Downstairs

Visitors

  • Stephen Fry as Inspector Thompson, a policeman
  • Ron Webster as Constable Dexter, Thompson's assistant

Themes

The film is a study of the British class system during the 1930s; Stephen Fry, Inspector Thompson in the film, says that it shows the upper class's dependency on a servant class.[2] A number of secondary themes are also explored. For example, the film takes a subtle look at sexual mores during the 1930s and also touches on gay issues, such as the implied relationship between Henry and Weissman. As it is set in 1932, between World Wars I and II, the impact of the First World War is also explored in the film's screenplay.[3] It also mentions the decline of the British Empire and the peerage system. Writing for PopMatters, Cynthia Fuchs described surface appearances, rather than complex interpersonal relationships, as a theme of the film.[4]

Salon.com critic Steven Johnson notes a revival of the manor house mystery style, popularized by the writings of Agatha Christie, in the screenplay for Gosford Park. He called it a blend between this literary style and that of the 19th century novel.[5] Bob Balaban, an actor and producer for Gosford Park, says that the idea of creating a murder mystery told by the servants in the manor was an interesting one for him and Altman.[2]

Production

Actors and screenplay

In Gosford Park, as well as many other Altman films, the director had a list of actors he intended to appear in the film before it was cast formally. The film's casting director was Mary Selway, who was described by the producer David Levy as knowing many British actors.[6]

Syon House, where indoor scenes for Gosford Park were shot

Julian Fellowes, the film's writer, says the screenplay was "not an homage to Agatha Christie, but a reworking of that genre." Fellowes was credited not only as the film's writer but also as a technical advisor, meaning that he wrote portions of the film as it was being produced. He notes that, when writing a large scene with many actors and characters, not everything that the characters say during the scene is scripted and instead leaves the actors to improvise other lines.[6]

Filming and editing

Filming was conducted at Wrotham Park for the exteriors, staircase, dining room and drawing room, and Syon House for the upstairs bedrooms. The opening sequence outside Lady Trentham's home was shot at Hall Barn, near Beaconsfield, Bucks, whose grounds were also used as the scene for lunch after the hunt. Sound stages were built to film the scenes of the manor's downstairs area.[7] Shepperton Studios was used for off-location filming.[8]

The film was shot with two cameras, both moving perpetually in opposite directions. The cameras pointed toward no specific area, intended to cause the audience to move their eyes throughout the scene. Altman notes that most of the film's cast had experience in theatre as well as film, meaning that they had acted in situations where the view of the audience is not on one specific actor and each audience member sees a slightly different image of the players on stage.[6] Andrew Dunn, the film's cinematographer, appreciated the co-operative nature of Gosford Park's filming process. He shot the film on Kodak Kodak Vision Expression 500T film stock generally with two Panavision cameras, using lighting ranging from relatively dim candles to bright hydrargyrum medium-arc iodide lamps.[9] Editor Tim Squyres described the editing process on Gosford Park as an unusual one, as the dual cameras used were generally located in the same areas when filming, instead of the more standard method of setting up a scene directly.[10]

Reception

The film came into wide release on 18 January 2002 and left cinemas on 6 June 2002. According to the film website Box Office Mojo, Gosford Park received a total of $87,754,044 in its combined total gross at the box office.[1] The review aggregator Metacritic listed the film's overall reception at 90 percent, which corresponds with "universal acclaim"[11] and Rotten Tomatoes at 86 percent.[12] The film received an overwhelmingly positive response from critics, including Roger Ebert, who awarded it his highest rating of four stars, describing the story as "such a joyous and audacious achievement it deserves comparison with his [Robert Altman's] very best movies."[7] Ebert specifically noted a quality of the film that many Altman films share: a focus on character rather than plot.[7] Emanuel Levy, an independent critic, gave Gosford Park an A minus rating. He described one of its themes as "illuminating a society and a way of life on the verge of extinction,"[13] placing the interwar setting as an integral part of the film's class study. However, he notes that because Altman is an independent observer of the society he portrays in the film, it does not have the biting qualities of his previous social commentaries such as Short Cuts, set in the director's home country of the United States.[13]

Gosford Park's cinematography was a focus of several critics. CNN's Paul Clinton praised Andrew Dunn's camera work, describing it as "lush and rich; the camera glides up and down the stairs of the grand estate, the period look is beautifully crafted."[14] Ed Gonzalez of the Internet publication Slant Magazine writes that "Altman's camera is the star of Gosford Park" and that the film's cinematography is used as an aid to its storytelling.[15] Michael Phillips placed Gosford Park at number nine on his list of Best Films of the Decade.[16] The film was placed at 82 on Slant Magazine's list of best films of the 2000s .[17]

Awards

Soundtrack

DVD release

The region 1 DVD of Gosford Park was released on 25 June 2002, with the region 2 release on 3 December 2002. The critic Ed Gonzalez reviewed the DVD negatively, calling the picture quality "atrocious on the small screen," going on to say that "the image quality of this video transfer is downright lousy from start to finish."[15] However, reviewer Robert Mack generally wrote favourably of the picture quality, noting excellence in the shots' detail and sharpness and the lack of compression artefacts, but describing an unfavourable darkness to scenes filmed within the manor house.[18] Both reviewers commented positively on the film's score and soundtrack. Gonzalez wrote that "Gosford Park sounds amazing for a film so dialogue-dependent"[15] and Mack that "the audio transfer is about as good as it can get on a movie of this style."[18]

References

  1. ^ a b c Staff. "Gosford Park". Box Office Mojo. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=gosfordpark.htm. Retrieved 2008-04-26. 
  2. ^ a b Miller, Danny (Director); Gill, Kevin (Executive Producer). (2001-12-14). The Making of Gosford Park. [DVD]. USA Films. 
  3. ^ Holden, Stephen (2001-12-26). "Full of Baronial Splendor and Hatefulness". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9804EFD81531F935A15751C1A9679C8B63. Retrieved 2008-04-26. 
  4. ^ Fuchs, Cynthia (2002-06-27). "Gosford Park". PopMatters. http://www.popmatters.com/film/reviews/g/gosford-park-dvd.shtml. Retrieved 2008-04-26. 
  5. ^ Johnson, Steven (2002-01-24). "The ghosts of "Gosford Park"". Salon.com. http://dir.salon.com/story/ent/movies/feature/2002/01/24/gosford_novels/. Retrieved 2008-04-26. 
  6. ^ a b c Hammond, Pete (Moderator) et al.. (2002-03-08). Cast and Filmmaker's Q&A Session. [DVD]. USA Films. 
  7. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger (2002-01-02). "Gosford Park". Chicago Sun-Times. Sun-Times Media Group. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20020101/REVIEWS/201010302/1023. Retrieved 2008-04-26. 
  8. ^ Staff. "Filming locations for Gosford Park (2001)". Internet Movie Database. Amazon.com. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0280707/locations. Retrieved 2008-04-26. 
  9. ^ "Andrew Dunn BSC tracks mysterious movements at Gosford Park" (PDF). In Camera. Eastman Kodak. January 2002. pp. 4–5. http://www.kodak.com/US/plugins/acrobat/en/motion/newsletters/inCamera/jan2002/gosford.pdf. Retrieved 2008-04-26. 
  10. ^ Wood, Jennifer M. (2007-02-03). "Breaking Away". MovieMaker. http://www.moviemaker.com/editing/article/breaking_away_2806/. Retrieved 2008-05-01. 
  11. ^ Staff. "Gosford Park (2001): Reviews". Metacritic. CNET Networks. http://www.metacritic.com/video/titles/gosfordpark. Retrieved 2008-04-26. 
  12. ^ Staff. "Gosford Park (2001)". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/gosford_park/. Retrieved 2008-05-01. 
  13. ^ a b Levy, Emanuel. "Gosford Park". EmanuelLevy.com. http://emanuellevy.com/article.php?articleID=2152. Retrieved 2008-04-27. 
  14. ^ Clinton, Paul (2002-01-04). "Review: 'Gosford Park' a winning mystery". CNN. http://edition.cnn.com/2002/SHOWBIZ/Movies/01/04/review.gosford.park/index.html. Retrieved 2008-04-26. 
  15. ^ a b c Gonzalez, Ed (2002-05-26). "DVD Review: Gosford Park". Slant Magazine. http://www.slantmagazine.com/dvd/dvd_review.asp?ID=32. Retrieved 2008-04-26. 
  16. ^ Phillips, Michael. "At the Movies". At the Movies. http://bventertainment.go.com/tv/buenavista/atm/specials/bestofthedecade/. Retrieved 2009-11-02. 
  17. ^ "Best of the Aughts: Film". Slant Magazine. http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/feature/best-of-the-aughts-film/216/page_2. Retrieved February 10, 2010. 
  18. ^ a b Mack, Robert. "Gosford Park". DVD.net.au. http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1881. Retrieved 2008-04-27. 

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Billy Elliot
Alexanda Korda Award for Best British Film
2001
Succeeded by
The Warrior
Preceded by
Almost FamousCameron Crowe
Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay
2001
Succeeded by
Talk to HerPedro Almodóvar

Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Gosford Park is a 2001 film.

Mrs. Wilson

  • What gift do you think a good servant has that separates them from the others? It's the gift of anticipation. And I'm a good servant. I'm better than good. I'm the best. I'm the perfect servant. I know when they'll be hungry and the food is ready. I know when they'll be tired and the bed is turned down. I know it before they know it themselves.

Lady Trentham

  • Difficult colour, green.

External links

Wikipedia
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