Published Dec 01, 2001"Gosford Park" is an escapists nightmare, its mode of engagement being to give one nowhere to go. Remarkably, the film's portrayal of reality is such an acute one, that the world it depicts never becomes a tempting alternative to one's own. Certainly an incredible feat, given that the cinema seems almost inherently predisposed to heightening even the dullest moments of human life to the point of there becoming enviably realer than real.
By running two cameras simultaneously during the shooting of the film, each from a different perspective, director Robert Altman was able to disorient the actors away from the lens, effectively keeping them from playing up to the audience. In a similar vein, the means by which a story normally circumscribes and leads one through a focused, meaningful framework for experience are sabotaged; there are no clearly defined central characters amongst the large ensemble cast, and although there is a setting that is common to all the events that are portrayed, there is no central plot. The piquant irony that manifests, as the tenacity of a classic murder mystery narrative is lost in the films mélange of people and stories, underscores the point of it all. By staving off the elegance of a well-crafted story - the coveted exaggerations of dramatization "Gosford Park" intimates the essence of realties brutishness. Life, it suggests, is adverse for the same reason that it itself is not an engrossing film, not because of its vicissitudes but because of the banal, ambiguous style in which they present themselves.
"Gosford Park" recounts the events of a fictitious weekend hunting party held at an English estate of the same name, sometime in the early 1930s. The party guests, an assembly of gentry, moneyed bourgeoisies, their associates and hangers-on, comprise one half of the films characters. The other half consists of their servants. It is primarily from the perspective of these 'below-stairs' butlers, valets, maids, and cooks, who are either employed at or by the guests of the Gosfard Park manor, that the audience is given a vantage onto the episodes that transpire there. The film's unsympathetic voice, and resolute cold realism keeps one firmly inside this frame, for the servants too, not only find no escape in the drama they watch play out amongst their masters, but in fact feel there own desperation echoed in it. As is cleverly alluded to in the film, the only gentry the servants ogle at wistfully are those they see on-screen at the matinee.
"Gosford Park" is a film worth contemplation. It's a masterwork of subtlety that yields an ever-increasing thoughtfulness on a range of themes the longer one grapples with it. Avoid it only if you are as filled with longing as a footman.