I read my first Agatha Christie murder mystery when I was twelve. It was the start of a beautiful relationship. Every summer after that, I would check out stacks of Agatha Christie mysteries. The plots were always intricate and watertight, but I also loved the idea of rich British people in country houses dressing for dinner and going shooting and having weekend parties. Gosford Park is basically an Agatha Christie mystery with a twist—it not only shows how the family is affected by the murder, but also how the servants are affected. It could be called Murder at Downton Abbey.
So what’s the story? Sir William McCordle has invited friends and family to Gosford Park for a weekend shooting party. The guests come with their servants, and everyone, both upstairs and down, has a secret.
The Good: The cast reads like a Who’s Who of British actors. Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Northam, Clive Owen, Stephen Fry, and Kelly Macdonald are all in this movie, to name just a few. Everyone is excellent. There isn’t an actor in the movie who was miscast or who isn’t completely believable in their role. It’s a fantastic cast, and the movie is incredibly well-acted.
The screenplay is delightful. I had to laugh when I was watching the credits and realized why I felt it was similar to Downton Abbey. The screenplay was written by Julian Fellowes, the man behind Downton Abbey. The screenplay is fun and funny. Although there are many characters, the screenplay allows them all to show their personalities and problems. It’s very clever and well-written.
The costume design impressed me. The designer, Jenny Beavan, had to not only design clothes for the wealthy and their servants, but also had to show a range of incomes in those different classes. She did so very cleverly and period-appropriately.
I love the music. It’s buoyant and jolly when it needs to be and unobtrusive when more serious things are happening. The cheery piano music made me want to find the sheet music.
The art direction is also excellent. It drew me in to this country house of the 1930s. The cars, the bedrooms, the servants’ quarters, everything felt realistic to me.
The Bad: I got so mad watching this movie at the way people treated their servants. The servants weren’t treated so much like people as they were like useful machines. They are used and abused at their employers’ pleasure. I felt very frustrated. Based on things that I’ve read, I’m fairly sure the attitudes are accurate. Even in my beloved Agatha Christie novels, the servants are almost always discounted from being murder suspects because they couldn’t possibly have a motive; they don’t know the murdered person well enough. I love that this movie shows the relationships between the rich and their servants; the only one who cries at the news of the murder is a servant. But the treatment of the servants still makes me mad.
The Ugly: It was a little hard to keep track of who everyone was. The relationships of the upper-class people were especially hard to figure out. Everyone is introduced so quickly and shallowly at first that it doesn’t all sink in the first time around.
Oscar Won: Best writing, screenplay written directly for the screen.
Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actress in a supporting role (Helen Mirren); best actress in a supporting role (Maggie Smith); best director; best art direction-set decoration; best costume design.