This is hardly a new movie, in fact it’s over 10 years old, but I had never seen it and it stars just about everyone in the British film industry. It got 7 Academy Award nominations, so that put it at the top of my Netflix queue. And, as I seem to be making my way through the entire Julian Fellowes oeuvre, this was next on the list.
It’s commonly referred to as a mystery-comedy drama. Whatever that is. It seems to put its feet into every genre and not become a part of any of them. I don’t think I knew what to make of it, not having heard much about it before hand. It starts out like your typical upstairs-downstairs drama, in true Downton Abbey style, with the introduction of about 20 people upstairs and 20 downstairs, and alternates between the two worlds. And of course it is remnicsent of a typical Agatha Christie work, with the murder mystery element. But it isn’t quite either of these things.
Whatever can be said about its not being committed to a genre, the cast is spectacular. Maggie Smith, Clive Owen, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Ryan Phillipe, Kristin Scott Thomas, the list goes on. Gambon (aka Dumbledore 2.0) stars as Sir William McCordle, who is murdered (not once, but twice!) after a dinner party. Stephen Fry also makes an appearance, as a completely idiotic detective.
The most bothersome part of the movie was how confusing it was at the beginning. I could not, for the life of me, keep track of the character’s names, or who was married to whom. I had to look up the Wiki page to try to keep track of all the marriages, because after initial introductions there was a good hour of gossip back and forth between other characters.
I wanted to like it, and on the surface it has all the elements I like in a movie/story. British? check. Historical? check. At least two Harry Potter actors? check! But for some reason it didn’t particularly resonate with me. There was too much mystery for me to focus on the class system politics, and too much social commentary to focus on the mystery. For me, it lacked focus.
That being said, there were a lot of fun/interesting moments, Clive Owen was delightful, and Maggie Smith was spectacular as always. She was born to play an upper class lady from the first half of the 20th century, yes?
I found it particularly interesting that Stephen Fry’s Inspector Thomson declares (obviously I’m paraphrasing) that they won’t need to question the servants (about who murdered Sir McCordle), only to people who really new him. This is such a ridiculous notion, given the intimate details that servants were privy to in such a household. It actually reminded me of a short story called “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell, where a man is found dead in his bed, and the police investigate while their wives wait downstairs in the kitchen and sitting room. The men are examining the crime scene, while the women downstairs find all the evidence of the husband’s cruelty and the wife’s probable guilt in the murder. The men don’t find any evidence where they look, and the women hide what they find. The point of the story (or one of them) is that men (or those in power) often lack a true understanding of the world because of their elevated place in it, whereas the lower people on the social ladder can see the truth of the world in its entirety. Similarly in Gosford Park, the servants are able to discern who and why the master of the house was murdered, and similarly the matter is hushed up by them on the basis of his whole-heartedly deserving it.