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It's 1932 in rural England. Sir William (Michael Gambon) and Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas) McCordle invite a bevy of guests for a weekend shooting party at their lavish estate. There's the stuffy Countess of Trentham (Maggie Smith), Hollywood actor Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) and producer Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban). That's just upstairs. Downstairs the dutiful servents attend their every whim. There's the McCordle's proud valet (Derek Jacobi), butler (Alan Bates), loyal housekeeper (Helen Mirren), naughty housemaid (Emily Watson), feisty cook (Eileen Atkins), and cynical footman (Richard E Grant). A novice maid (Kelly Macdonald) and two valets (Ryan Phillipe, Clive Owen) arrive to attend their masters. All goes well over the weekend until Sir William is murdered. Bumbling Inspector Thompson (Stephen Fry) discovers two murderers are to be apprehended, and that everyone in the house, upstairs and down, has a motive.

Review by Shannon J. Harvey:
All the big names in British acting turn up for Robert Altman's good old fashioned whodunnit - even a few Americans too. More than an Agatha Christie style murder mystery, Gosford Park cuts to shreds the upstairs-downstairs mentality that pervaded the English class system in the early 20th century. Roles are spread evenly between pampered above-stairs aristocrats and their below-stairs servants who tend to their every whim. Both bicker and gossip in different ways; the above stair people about politics and people, the below stairs people about their above stairs masters. "I'm the perfect housekeeper,'' Helen Mirren sighs, "I have no life.''

Much respected veteran director Robert Altman puts his sympathies in the commoners below, for it's through their eyes that we observe the antiquarian class system between the haves and have-nots. Observe closely, for the dialogue is littered with as many hints as to Sir William's murderer as Altman's camera, which reveals prophetic glimpses of knives, bottles of poison and below-knees shots. Following the intricate web of relationships is nowhere near as fun as listening to the guests' venomous barbs that may or may not reveal clues to the secrets. The detail is so dense it can be heavy-going, but Altman keeps the tone light and whimsical. Stephen Fry does his best Inspector Clouseau as he hunts for Sir William's murderers, Maggie Smith steals the show as an old dame with her claws out for the young, and Helen Mirren, Derek Jacobi and Alan Bates are refined as the thanklessly loyal servants. Ryan Phillippe feels a little miscast as the only American actor downstairs, but everyone in this endless parade of thesps deliver pitch-perfect performances. The period detail - from table settings to vintage cars to the rituals of the shoot - add to the authenticity of this simply stunning achievement. Altman keeps the manor buzzing with activity, his multiple microphones catching every sinister whisper and hint of how every inhabitant might want a piece of Sir William's estate.

The DVD has a list of extras almost as long as the cast list. The 20-minute Making-Of featurette is glossy and interview-laden despite insights into Altman's unconventionality and his uncanny faith in his actors' abilities. The Authenticity featurette is more humble and, at just eight-minutes, less repetitive. It stars real-life former butler Arthur Inch, cook Ruth Moff and parlour maid Violet Liddle who were advisors on the film. Like almost every DVD on the market, the Deleted Scenes do little more than add credence to the importance of good editing. There are two audio commentaries. Altman, his production designer (and son) Stephen Altman and producer David Levy give informative but airy views. However, the second by screenwriter Julian Fellowes is steeped in history, and Fellowes is such an entertaining wordsmith. The 25-minutes Q&A session with Altman, Levy, Fellows, Macdonald, Mirren, Balaban, Northam and Phillippe is entertaining enough, but redundant in light of the other features.

With features that add strength and insight into an already impressive film, Gosford Park on DVD is a must-have for true film lovers. Cutting cleverly across social lines, the film deserved its seven Oscar nominations. It's a near-perfect film where both upstairs and downstairs inhabitants are linked by more than they care to admit.

Published November 28, 2002

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CAST: Stephen Fry, Michael Gambon, Richard E Grant, Kelly MacDonald, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, Clive Owen, Ryan Phillippe, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emily Watson and Bob Balaban, Alan Bates, Eileen Atkins, Derek Jacobi, Camilla Rutherford, Charles Dance, Sophie Thompson, Meg Wynn Owen, Teresa Churcher, Sarah Flind

DIRECTOR: Robert Altman

RUNNING TIME: 137 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16 X 9 widescreen format; Dolby Digital 5.1 audio

SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by Robert Altman, Stephen Altman and David Levy, Making of Gosford Park, Authenticity of Gosford Park; Q & A sessions; Deleted Scenes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: November 27, 2002

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