Gosford Park
(Click here for Internet Movie Database entry)

This is a really great film. Where do I start?  Robert Altman, who already has an amazing resume including MASH, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville, The Player, Shortcuts, and Cookie's Fortune, is the director.  The cast is very large and seems to include almost every great British actor who is still breathing.  The cast includes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Michael Gambon (actually, he's Irish), Maggie Smith, Charles Dance, Jeremy Northam, Alan Bates, Helen Mirren, Eileen Atkins, Derek Jacobi, Emily Watson, Richard E. Grant (actually, he's South African), Clive Owen, and Steven Fry.  Think Upstairs, Downstairs crossed with Agatha Christie and you'll have a good idea of what Gosford Park is all about.  A group of people gather at an English country house for a weekend of shooting pheasants.  Besides the host and his wife (Gambon and Scott Thomas) and various relatives, there is an English actor (Northam) and an American film producer (Bob Balaban). Along with these few idle rich, there are legions of servants. If you are an Upstairs, Downstairs devotee, then you will know the difference between a Butler and a Footman, a Housekeeper and a Housemaid, not to mention Valets and Scullery Maids.  One of the fascinations of Gosford Park is just watching the sheer amount of labor that is required to keep an English country house going. And while the Upstairs subplots are interesting, it is Downstairs where the real action is.  Here, we find the Housekeeper (Mirren) and the Cook (Atkins) warring over who runs the house while the Butler (Bates) keeps his head down.  Thrown into the mix, are the Valets and Lady's Maids, including Owen, Kelly Macdonald and Ryan Phillippe, who arrived along with the weekend guests.  As you can see, I've taken up half this review just listing the cast.  But the amazing thing is that while some films have trouble developing even one character, Gosford Park develops about 20 characters with ease.  The plot is very Agatha Christie-esque, complete with murder, mystery,  intrigue and a doltish police inspector (Fry).  The direction by Altman is both beautiful and full of motion.  In this huge house, full of people, someone is always doing something.  The cast is uniformly great but standout performances are given by Helen Mirren, Clive Owen , Kelly Macdonald and Emily Watson.   In fact, Watson and Owen nearly steal the film if that's possible with all the acting mega-wattage emoting all over the place.  Owen is a new face, starring is last year's Indie hit, Croupier.  Watson, twice nominated for an Oscar,  has already shown she can act in movies such as, Breaking the Waves, Hilary and Jackie, and Angela's Ashes.  The plot is very involved, but unlike some other stories, all the clues are there if you want to figure out whodunit.  But I advise you not to sweat it.  Just sit back and enjoy.