Secrets, Lies & Murder

Maggie Smith in Gosford Park (2001)

Sir William (Michael Gambon) and Lady Sylvia McCordle (Kristin Scott-Thomas) are hosting a weekends shooting party for a whole range of people from the local nobility to friends and of course family. It means the house is not only over flowing with guests but also their valets and maids who fill up the downstairs. But there are many connections going on from former loves to hidden secrets as well as sneaky new relationships setting seed. But it seems that the upstairs and the downstairs have something in common and they all have one eye on Sir William's wealth. It means that when a murder occurs and Inspector Thompson (Stephen Fry) arrives everyone is a suspect.

As a rule I try to avoid these types of movies as I am not a fan of this sort of period drama where you have the well to do sitting around talking posh and acting pretentious. But then "Gosford Park" not only features a ridiculous amount of star power but it is more than just a period drama it is "Upstairs Downstairs" turned in to a murder mystery and that makes it a lot more appealing. How appealing? Well it managed to keep me interested even during the bits which normally would have bored me as in scenes which highlight the differences between the well to do upstairs and the servants downstairs.

Emily Watson in Gosford Park (2001)

So what goes on in "Gosford Park"? Well we have that look at the different lives where the well to do eat a grand meal in a beautiful dining hall whilst the staff who have been rushing around are crammed around the table in the kitchen eating theirs. We see how the staff are constantly harried, always at the beck and call such as a scene where Constance Trentham can't open her flask so her maid Mary has to stand in the rain by the side of the car trying to undo it for her. All of which is typical but as it is not the sole focus of the movie it never becomes stale or stuffy.

So alongside that we have various little subplots surrounding the guests and staff, as in who is with who and who was with who and who is not what they seem. I won't go in to detail because this is very much the first layer of mystery but alongside the murder mystery it adds a layer of amusement especially when it comes to the behaviour of these guests and servants sneaking around.

But then all of this builds the story and builds the element of not being sure of anyone so that when the murder comes along and we have the police arrive you truly can't be sure who could have done it. Even the most innocent of characters arouse your suspicions because of their secrets and behaviour elsewhere. All of which is surprisingly enjoyable and despite coming in at just under 140 minutes "Gosford Park" never feels like it is dragging its feet.

As for the acting well from start to finish it is first rate but to be honest that is no surprise because the calibre of the cast from Helen Mirren right down to James Wilby is simply excellent. Even Ryan Phillippe who on paper looks like he is in over his head accounts for himself quite brilliantly. It is a case that if there was anything wrong with a performance we have so many characters and so many actors that it wouldn't spoil things.

What this all boils down to is that even for someone like me who doesn't care for period dramas "Gosford Park" is entertaining. The mix of storylines, the pacing, the characters as well as the impressive cast all combine to make it not so much a captivating 137 minutes but certainly an enjoyable 137 minutes.

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