finds director Robert Altman in sumptuously fine form. From the opening shots, as the camera peers through the trees at an opulent English country estate, Altman exploits the 1930s period setting and whodunit formula of the film expertly. Aristocrats gather together for a weekend shooting party with their dutiful servants in tow, and the upstairs/downstairs division of the classes is perfectly tailored to Altman's method (Nashville, Short Cuts
) of overlapping bits of dialogue and numerous subplots in order to betray underlying motives and the sins that propel them. Greed, vengeance, snobbery and lust stir comic unrest as the near dizzying effects of the plot twists are allayed by perhaps Altman's strongest ensemble to date.
Maggie Smith is marvellous as Constance, a dependent Countess with a quip for every occasion; Michael Gambon, as the ill-fated host, Sir William McCordle, is one of the most palpably salacious characters ever on screen; Kristin Scott Thomas is perfectly cold, yet sexy, as Lady Sylvia, Sir William's wife; and Helen Mirren, Emily Watson and Clive Owen are equally memorable as key characters from the bustling servants' quarters below. Gosford Park manages to be fabulously entertaining while exposing human shortcomings, compromises and endless need for confession. --Fionn Meade
On the DVD: Gosford Park, presented 2.35:1--Anamorphic Widescreen transfer, is awash with the muted colours and sepia tones which permeate the film, the sound is excellent as the actors were individually miked, so you dont loose any of the dialogue giving away subtle plot developments. Extras are chunky, with deleted scenes, trailers a couple of documentaries. Most notable are the two commentaries which go a long way to unravelling some of the twistier plot devices and a Q&A session with the Altman and his crew filmed in New York. --Kristen Bowditch
Gosford Park country estate, 1932. Various members of the English upper classes have arrived for a shooting party, along with film star Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam), Hollywood producer Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban) and Weissman's valet Henry Denton (Ryan Phillippe). The servants are busily getting everything ready, and Elsie (Emily Watson), one of the resident staff, is helping visiting maid Mary Maceachran (Kelly MacDonald) find her way around the old house. As the weekend progresses a number of secrets and hidden relationships begin to come to light, and this situation is hastened further when Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon), the owner of the estate, is discovered murdered, and various guests and staff come under suspicion.