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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
The GOSFORD PARK Shuffle
by Betty Jo Tucker

You’re invited for a weekend at a country estate.
Pack your finest duds, wouldn’t want to be late.
Arriving in the drawing room, you’re surrounded by class.
Who’s who and what’s what, you are dying to ask.
Doin’ the Gosford Park shuffle.

First you try to put each guest in his or her place,
and match those British accents with each handsome face.
Then you meditate and cogitate with all of your might,
hoping against hope everything turns out right.
Doin’ the Gosford Park shuffle.

Next, you watch the butlers, maids and such
to learn about each one --- but not too much.
After shaking your head at the gossip going on,
you ask yourself where all the action has gone.
Doin’ the Gosford Park shuffle.

Finally, when you see that a murder is done
you’re not surprised, ‘cause you know the one
who did the deed and when and why.
So you chuckle at that bumbling Inspector guy.
Doin’ the Gosford Park shuffle.

After the film is over, you’re curious to know
why it caused Robert Altman’s reputation to grow
and won directorial awards for the world to see
despite all its faults --- that’s the true mystery.
Doin’ the Gosford Park shuffle.

Obviously, I’m not among those many film critics who adore Gosford Park. Although Robert Altman’s send-up of the British class system in pre-World War II England combines elements of BBC’s successful mini-series Upstairs, Downstairs and Agatha Christie’s popular Murder on the Orient Express, it suffers from too many characters and endless babbling. Most of the action (and I use the term loosely) is seen through the eyes of servants, then discussed ad nauseam. A bare-bones plot further weakens the movie.

Gathered together for a weekend hunting party at Gosford Park, Sir William McCordle’s (Michael Gambon) posh country estate, are a group of very important people. This group includes, among others, his glamorous wife (Kirstin Scott Thomas), his daughter (Camilla Rutherford), Lord and Lady Stockbridge (Geraldine Somerville and Charles Dance), an elderly countess (Maggie Smith), a movie star (Jeremy Northam), and a filmmaker (Bob Balaban). Mostly bland performances here --- except for a few sparks from the usually wonderful Smith and some nostalgic songs from Northam. I’d invite Northam, an entertainer with a great voice, to my parties anytime!

Although a bit more fun to watch, the servants seem to live vicariously through their employers. The newest maid (Kelly MacDonald) is learning the ropes from the likes of a no-nonsense head housekeeper (Helen Mirren) and an outspoken housemaid (Emily Watson). And, oh yes, there are butlers (like Alan Bates), valets (like Clive Owen), a long-time cook (Eileen Atkins), and an enigmatic interloper (Ryan Phillippe). I fear I’m leaving out some characters --- but I just can’t keep track of them all.

When a murder occurs and an Inspector (Stephen Fry) becomes involved, no one gets too upset. With so much gossiping going on, secrets don’t last long. What kind of secrets?  Adultery, child abandonment, affairs between servants and master --- the usual.

I believe Altman (Dr. T. and the Women) intended Gosford Park as more of a commentary on British manners and customs (circa 1932) than a murder mystery. Still, he needn’t have bothered. We already have Remains of the Day, a much superior film.

(Released by USA Films and rated “R” for language and brief sexuality.)


                                                                                                                                                                               
 
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