Gosford Park (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Let's get ready to mumble .........

Such a cry begins the filming of every "my dear Nigel" film in which stuffy upper-class Englishmen, oblivious to the genetic catastrophe caused by their own inbreeding, harrumph condescending comments at each other and to each other about others, while their supremely competent servants manage to maintain the smooth and efficient running of the household and the Empire.

And yet, even within the servants, there is a class heirarchy .... blah, blah, blah, the usual suspects.

The British used to make lots of these, even as recently as a few years ago. One of the most common of the sub-genres was the murder mystery in which the savvy detective called everyone into the drawing room to announce that Colonel Mustard killed Mr Body with a candlestick in the conservatory.



Whatever the hell a conservatory is. I presume this is where they eat their jelly? Oh, wait, that would be a preservatory. Frankly, I'm befuddled by that word "conservatory" because it seems to me that people use it to refer to two completely different kinds of rooms. Some rich people have a special glass-walled room where they grow their daffodils and other such important hoity-toity folderol which they need in order to act rich. We commoners in the States would call this a greenhouse if separate from the house, or a solarium if attached, but they call that a conservatory. Other rich people, the ones that are into owning a grand piano even though they are tone deaf, place the piano in a wood-paneled room filled with bookshelves. They load the shelves with dusty, unread books and hire needy musicians to give their children music lessons. They call this wood-paneled child-torturing room a conservatory. Which one is called the conservatory if they have both daffodils and tone deaf children? I know neither that nor what to call the other one in such a case.

The British seem to have given up on these films. Now all British movies seem to be

either (1) blackly comedic hyper-violent gangster films in which the criminals speak with colorful working-class London accents.

or (2) offbeat comedies about eccentric impoverished rurals with colorful working-class regional accents.

It took an American, Robert Altman, to carpetbag his way into the country and make an old-fashioned "my dear Nigel" film, complete with country estates, fox hunts, secret children, horny lairds, and a murder. The cast includes every possible "my dear Nigel" actor in the world, from Richard Grant to Derek Jacobi to Maggie Smith to Alan Bates. What a shame that they couldn't get Richard Harris or Peter O'Toole to play a lovable but constantly inebriated uncle.

I don't think it serves much purpose for me to tell you that my response to the film was lukewarn. It received a bunch of award nominations, is popular across all age groups at IMDb, and received great reviews from 100% of the top critics at Rotten Tomatoes. But for the record, here's what I found tedious:

  • There are about 308 different people in it. They were all great actors, but they had about one line apiece. I didn't know who 304 of them were or anything about them.
  • The murder mystery is not really important. It happens halfway into the film, but about 25 minutes in you will see who will be murdered and who will do it. And when it happens, your lack of surprise will be exceeded only by your lack of involvement. The set-up is painfully obvious "I do say, my dear Nigel, didn't we used to have six knives in our Ginsu set? By Jove, there are only five! Oh, I suppose I'm mistaken."
  • There is nothing much to reach into your heart and move you. The entertainment, as such, is aloof and cerebral.

DVD info from Amazon

Commentary by director Robert Altman, production designer Stephen Altman and producer David Levy
Commentary by screenwriter Julian Fellows
The making of Gosford Park
The authenticity of Gosford Park
Deleted scenes
Filmmakers Q&A session
Widescreen anamorphic format

In other words it is neither very good as a character-based film nor as a plot-based film. It's a hybrid - more of a "dialogue-based" film. It is very good at delivering 137 minutes of people making contemptuous remarks about their fellow man. Some of these are witty, some are not. Those which are witty are "clever witty", not "funny witty". I never laughed, but I did occasionally sneer a haughty sneer along with the author. If this is your thing, go for it.

Interestingly, British critics adored the film, even more than American critics, but everyday voters in the UK score it only 5.8 at the Guardian's movie site.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 4/4, Berardinelli 3/4, filmcritic.com 3/5.

  • General UK consensus: three and a half stars. Daily Mail 9/10, Daily Telegraph 8/10, Independent 8/10, The Guardian 9/10, The Observer 9/10, The Times 8/10, Evening Standard 9/10, The Sun 8/10, The Express 10/10, The Mirror 9/10, 5/5

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 7.7/10, Guardian voters 5.8/10
  • with their dollars: a resounding financial success as well as an artistic one. Made for $15 million, it grossed $41 million in the USA, $15 million in the UK, and did well in several other countries.
  • won the Oscar for best original screenplay. Nominated for five other Oscars. Nominated for 8 BAFTA awards, won 2, including best British film.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is obviously a C+. The people who love it think it is the next coming of Citizen Kane, but the lack of crossover appeal is summed up perfectly by this comment from a Guardian reader: "This is one for the critics. Unfortunately, for us normal 'ignorant' filmgoers, there is little entertainment to be had from this painfully slow film...."

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