I finally got round to watching Gosford Park this evening, and I can see what the fuss was about. I don’t mind admitting that I was totally wrong-footed about the murderer, but I wasn’t expecting it to be as genuinely moving as it was. Well deserving of the Oscar™ nominations it received this year, winning the Best Screenplay award for Julian Fellowes. (I mistakenly thought it had won Best Picture, but that actually went to A Beautiful Mind, which I have not seen.)
It features a who’s who of British movie talent, most effective among them Kelly McDonald (of Trainspotting fame), Emily Watson (Breaking The Waves), Helen Mirren (Prime Suspect), and Kristen Scott Thomas (The English Patient). The presence of the Americans (Ryan Philippe (Cruel Intentions) and Bob Balaban, who co-produced) threw the aberrant behaviour of the others into sharp relief.
I had wondered why the creators chose to include a real person, Ivor Novello, among an otherwise fictional cast, but it makes sense now. It offered the opportunity to use some of Novello’s evocative songs, including Keep The Home Fires Burning and The Land of Might-Have-Been, the latter and others ably sung by Jeremy Northcutt. In addition, I had a sense that Novello’s presence (like Philippe’s) blurred the line between Upstairs and Downstairs. He may have been an honoured guest and relative, but, as one of the characters makes clear, being an actor or performer in that society was considered low class. In this film, Novello drove himself to and from Gosford Park, performed on demand in the evenings, and took little part in the high society discussions besides the meals.
The English aristocracy had already experienced major changes by 1932, when Gosford Park is set, but more and greater change was on the way, and the film lends us the impression that they were aware of this. It was the end of an era, in more ways than one, and in some ways the film portrays different collisions between past and future, particularly in the murder and the motivation behind it. One for my DVD collection, I think.