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Gosford Park: Collector's Edition

Best Original Screenplay Oscar winner Gosford Park is a literate, complex, expansive, generous, sympathetic tale of class and power in transition in England between the wars. Taking place over the course of one weekend in November, 1932, at the estate of nouveau riche industrialist Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon), Gosford Park is about sex and money — two topics that few talk about in polite society but which is on everyone's mind. In this rich, complex Upstairs, Downstairs world, McCordle is assailed by various children and sisters- and brothers-in-law about money, while sex is going on all around, barely as clandestinely as one would think. On the Upstairs side of things, the irascible, snobbish Aunt Constance (Maggie Smith) needs a bigger allowance, and a cousin of McCordle, Ivor Novello (a real life actor, writer, and songwriter played by Jeremy Northam) has dragged along an American movie producer (Bob Balaban) and his Scottish servant Henry Denton (Ryan Phillippe) so he can research British upper class life. There are about four more stories all going on at once on this side of things, each developed in varying degrees of detail, and all culminating in a murder. Meanwhile, Downstairs, housekeeper Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren) is feuding with cook Mrs. Croft (Eileen Atkins), while the butler Jennings (Alan Bates) is hitting the sauce, and newcomers Mary (Kelly Macdonald) and Robert (Clive Owen) are trying to fit in. There are about eight stories going on in this half of the house, with multiple connections both within the Downstairs world and with tangents into the Upstairs. Gosford Park is an intriguing tale that has the scope of a great movie and the messiness of real life. Director Robert Altman, writer Julian Fellowes, and collaborating actors leave many of these sub-plots dangling; and viewers hoping for a traditional Agatha Christie-style denouement after Inspector Thompson (Stephen Fry) shows up to “solve” the case will be sorely disappointed. The film evinces careful attention to detail about everything from the hierarchies in the world of servants to the correct number of inches between one place setting and another. Like The Remains of the Day, this is a film about the end of an era and the dissolution of the mass comfort of a whole class. The performances are uniformly excellent, but one would expect no less from a cache of the world's greatest actors and actresses. The only wrong note in the film is Stephen Fry as a bumbling detective; his shtick threatens to derail the tone of the film. As is to be expected of a new DVD release, Universal does a fantastic job with this USA Films title. It comes in an excellent anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), and while Andrew Dunn's cinematography is more interesting for its movement than its color quality, it looks good on disc. Audio options include Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround (though the film was released theatrically also in DTS, that is not an option here). Patrick Doyle's characteristically excellent score is discreet, and several Novello sounds enliven the soundtrack. There are also English and Spanish subtitles. The numerous significant extras include an audio commentary from director Robert Altman, the complementary track with Oscar winner Fellowes (one of the best ever), 20 deleted scenes with optional commentary, the featurette "The Making of Gosford Park" (20 min.), "The Authenticity of Gosford Park" (8:30), "Gosford Park: Cast and Filmmaker Question and Answer Session" (25-min.), the theatrical trailer, cast/crew notes, and additional trailers. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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