The film by Robert Altman
Article added on August 29, 2002
Robert Altman is the director of classic movies such as Nashville (1975)
and The Player (1992). In 2001, he has shot his best picture so far,
not only from the visual and aesthetic point of view: Gosford
Park takes place in a magnificent English country estate in November
1932. The opening scene shows beautiful limousines riding towards the home of
Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and his wife, Lady Sylvia McCordle
(Kristin Scott Thomas), who have invited an eclectic group of guests including
the Countess of Trentham (Maggie Smith), Lady Sylvia's aunt who is
contemptuous of and dependent on Sir William, a broke and desperate ex-officer
and World War I hero, Lieutenant Commander Anthony Meredith (Tom Hollander), the British matinee idol, film star and Sir
William's cousin, Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) and the American film producer
Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban; he is a co-producer of Gosford Park) who
makes Charlie Chan movies and is a friend of Novello.
As for the above stairs and below stairs contrasts, several English actors
have of course a special affinity: Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkins (Mrs. Croft,
the cook) are both Dames, Michael Gambon and
Derek Jacobi (Probert, Sir William's valet) are both Sirs. Furthermore, Eileen Atkins had co-created (with
actress Jean Marsh) the British television drama series Upstairs Downstairs.
Robert Altman is a director who prefers improvisation over strict
following of a written script. As Kristin Scott Thomas explained: "We
didn't rehearse, we just all turned up! Robert [Altman] described it like
throwing pearls onto a parquet floor - would see who was going to bump into
whom and how it would fit together. It's very creative in that you are allowed
to take risks and try anything that you are not sure will work."
The cast assembled by
Robert Altman is simply breathtaking: Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan
Bates (Jennings, the butler of the McCordles and head manservant of the house), Helen Mirren
(Mrs. Wilson, the housekeeper who presides over the house together with
Jennings) and Derek Jacobi, just to name a few. Dressing and
setting are equally impressive. Most of the shooting for the above stairs
characters took place in a country house just North of London. A few above
stairs bedroom scenes were filmed at Syon House in Middlesex. The below stairs
set was created at the Shepperton Studios in Shepperton, Middlesex. "Most
real below stairs places were like labyrinths which would have been very
difficult to shoot. Hence, we added some crossing corridors and windows that
are not entirely fictious...", explained production designer Stephen
According to costume designer Jenny Beavan, every detail of the costumes was
discussed, down to the underwear the maids would be wearing. After the study
of original clothes and period photographs of the 1930s, all the costumes were
remade for an authentic look.
As for information about real life on a country estate, two consultants with
first hand experience were hired. Consultant cook was Ruth Mott. When she was
about 14, in the 1930s, she went into kitchen service. Born in 1915 as the son
of a butler and a housemaid, Arthur Inch grew up in household service and, at
the age of 15, was trained by his father in all the arts of private service.
Inch advised all male actors portraying servants and household staff on how
they should behave, dress and carry themselves. For him, walking onto the set
was like going back in time. Furthermore, cast members were given extracts of
Lady Troubridge's The Book of Etiquette, Eileen Terry's Etiquette
for All as well as the Complete Etiquette for Ladies and Gentleman.
The film is deliberately set in 1932, before Hitler came to power and became an
issue in England as well. The quintessentially American director,
Robert Altman, explores a profoundly English subject. Gosford Park
is at the same time a comedy and study of behavior and manners, a portrait of
class, gender and tragic personal histories as well as a murder mystery movie.
Park reveals the intricate relations of and between the above and
below-stairs worlds, illuminating the pre-World War II way of life of the high
society and its servants which is about to come to an end. With Gosford
Robert Altman, the master of large ensemble pieces, here with a rich
setting of employers and servants with completely different lives and with
different aims, for one weekend all under one roof, has created his best film
Get the DVD Gosford Park, 2001, from Amazon.com,
People from Above Stairs in Gosford Park.
People from Below Stairs in Gosford Park.
The director of Gosford Park, Robert Altman, at work.