Thursday, March 24, 2016

Now That Downton Abbey is Over, Go Watch Gosford Park

A decade before the chauffer ran away with Lady Sibyl and the infamous scandal with Mr. Pamuk, Julian Fellowes wrote the screenplay for Robert Altman’s 2001 film, Gosford Park.  It’s proto-Downton Abbey with all the elements you want; the exquisite manners and table settings, the elegant evening gowns and bespoke suits, the furs and cigarettes, and of course the grand country manors and the interior design with the lovely furniture.
I originally watched this movie because of Robert Altman, legendary director of Mash (1970), Nashville (1975) and The Player (1992).  He employs a conversational technique of talking over in his films, layering dialogue on top of another like a symphony, a technique that demands multiple viewings to fully grasp all the nuanced levels and clever details of the plot.  I had no idea who Julian Fellowes was, but I remembered his name and this film when Downton Abbey rolled around and I knew exactly what I was in for.
Gosford Park is a 1930's locked room Murder Mystery straight out of an Agatha Christie novel featuring an all-star cast, and a very young (well, younger) Maggie Smith as the equally acerbic Constance, Countess of Trentham.  There are so many themes that would be elaborated (and beaten to death) in the series.  Fortunately there are no entails, though there are money problems upstairs, along with some servants crossing the class line and closeted gay couples.  The first half is devoted to the shooting weekend and the house party, and the second half is a murder mystery.
It’s a tighter plot of course, with the inherent time constraint of a movie but it explores familiar elements such as the servants living their lives through their employers, with their status and rank downstairs reflected in the seating arrangement at dinner.  The servants gossip just as much as their employers, but ironically have more to say about the events upstairs than their own lives. There’s a charming scene that sums up the film where Jeremy Northam as Ivor Novello plays the piano and sings after dinner.  The servants are star struck and the guests are for the most part bored and slightly embarrassed.
Kristen Scott Thomas plays the luminous Lady Sylvia and Kelly Macdonald from Trainspotting (1996) and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire (2010) portrays Maggie Smith’s maid Mary.  With Emily Watson as Elsie, and The Lion of Casterly Rock Charles Dance as Lord Stockbridge.  The film also features Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, Derek Jacobi, Richard E. Grant and UK National Treasure Stephen Fry as the Inspector Thompson.

Michael Gambon plays Sir William, who you of course know and love as Albus Dumbledore, but you should check out his performances as a British mob boss in Layer Cake (2004) and Albert Spica, the brutish titular thief in Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989, also starring Helen Mirren).


my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.