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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
  • None
  Extras
  • Deleted scenes
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary
  • Featurette - Authenticity of Gosford Park
  • Interviews
  • Awards/Nominations

Gosford Park

Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . COLOR . 137 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Gosford Park is so obviously directed by Robert Altman it is almost scary. Every single thing that has made him famous around the world as one of the very best in the business is present in this film. There are many storylines all interweaving throughout, so to understand and comprehend it all more than one viewing is a necessity.

The story is set at a manor in 1930s England. The Lord and Lady of the McCordle manor are throwing a shooting party. Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and Lady Sylvia McCordle (Kristin Scott Thomas) have invited many guests for the evening. The distinguished visitors include Sir Williamís sister Constance, the Countess of Trentham (Maggie Smith) along with her lady in waiting, Mary Maceachran (Kelly Macdonald). Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban), a famous American film producer, and his valet Henry Denton (Ryan Phillippe) are also attending. Lady Sylviaís sister, Lady Louisa Stockbridge, is attending along with her husband. Also coming is a famous Hollywood actor, Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam).

In the servants' area, referred to as Below Stairs, we meet equally as many new faces as we do above stairs. The butler of the manor is Jennings (Alan Bates), and the housekeeper is Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren). Head cook is Mrs. Croft (Eileen Atkins), and the footman, George. The various storylines are primarily told from the perspective of the servants in the household, and there is no scene in the film that does not have one of the servants present. There is constant background chatter in many scenes, and whilst the camera may be focused on one coupleís conversation there may be two or three others in the background that are equally important to listen to. The film technically fits in the mystery genre, yet it takes well over half the length of the movie for anyone to be murdered. As with most Altman films it is really quite hard to slot them into a definite category, which is one of the charms of his work. Half the guests each have a reasonable motive for killing Sir William, and it is after the murder that we are introduced to a fabulously funny police officer named Inspector Thompson (Stephen Fry). He brings a definite element of comedy to the plot; he is rather fumbling and constantly corrected by his partner, Constable Dexter (Ron Webster).

Altman makes many references to the class system of that period. There is an uncanny parallel between the above and below stairs. There is the same kind of hierarchy below stairs. The butler and housekeeper rule, followed by the cook and footmen. Altman also shows the utter dependence of the above stairs people on the below stairs. But in general, he displays the fact that the class system was ugly in that era.

"I am the perfect servant - I have no life."

The efforts taken to ensure that all of the details on set are as true to the era as possible are staggering to say the least. The production team hired three elderly people who had actually worked during the 1930s in England. One was a butler, one a cook and one a housekeeper. Robert Altman used the advice and guidance offered by these three to help him recreate a setting that was as authentic as possible. The method by which the film was shot gives a very warm and homely feel to the manor, with rich wood floors and beautiful large windows with heavy drapes covering them.

The scope of the cast involved in Gosford Park is very large. All the actors are English except for Bob Balaban and Ryan Phillippe. There are no real lead roles as such; rather there are around 20 actors who play major parts in the story. Probably the standout performance is by Maggie Smith, who was nominated for an Oscar for 'Best Actress in a Supporting Role'. She is almost faultless in her role as Constance, the Countess of Trentham. Her small snide remarks and observations are delivered with impeccable timing and skill. Another of the cast was nominated for best supporting actress, and that was Helen Mirren. She is the housekeeper of the manor, and excels in her role splendidly. Stephen Fry is absolutely brilliant as the bumbling Inspector Thompson. There really is no weak link in the large cast, they are all very convincing.

  Video
Contract

The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. The original theatrical ratio was 2.35:1, and I am not exactly sure why they felt the need to change it. The region 1 version of the disc is in the original aspect ratio, and I am at a loss as to why this release is not as well.

Aside from this fact, the video transfer is of a high standard, with only a small number of faults. Sharpness is consistently good throughout, though the film has quite a dim and murky feel to it for most indoor scenes. Some scenes are intentionally softened for the mood of the shot, and this works well in most cases. The detail on the old furniture and apparel is exquisite. There are no problems with any film artefacts or pixelation. The colours are very rich and deep throughout, and they look wonderful. The flesh tones are very accurate and there are no compression artefacts nor any bursts of grain. The shadow detail is very good, which is a blessing since much of the film is shot in low-lighting areas.

As for the faults I mentioned earlier, they are only very minor and for the most part go unnoticed. There are a few instances of aliasing, such as on a stairway guardrail. They are very hard to detect, and are really inconsequential. There is also a small problem with some light edge enhancement, but again it is trivial.

The disc is single sided and dual layered, with the layer change occurring at 83:36. The layer change is placed at a good position in the middle of an inactive scene. It does not interrupt any audio and is not overly disruptive. There are no subtitles available on this disc, which seems a bit ridiculous.

  Audio
Contract

There is one audio track available on the disc; in English Dolby Digital 5.1. Since this is a very dialogue driven film, donít expect too much from the audio. That being said, however, the audio transfer is about as good as it can get on a movie of this style. Chatter in the main rooms can be heard all around you with good use of the surround in such scenes.

In the few outdoor scenes, ambient sounds are also created well with the surrounds, with birds chirping and fountains flowing all around the place. The subwoofer is used primarily to support the filmís score and there are zero problems with audio synch. The dialogue mixing is very well done, it is easy to hear everything that's being said. Some viewers may have trouble with a few of the accents, as a couple of them are quite strongly Scottish.

The score is by Patrick Doyle, who worked on Bridget Jonesís Diary and Great Expectations. It is a collection of instrumental music that is associated with the era, and it complements the film well. It has a very orchestral feel to it.

  Extras
Contract

Plenty of extras are included, most of them being very interesting and informative:

Audio Commentary - This feature length audio commentary is done by director Robert Altman, production designer and Robert Altmanís son Stephen Altman, and producer David Levy. On the whole it is quite interesting, with Robert Altman talking predominantly about the technical aspects of the film and the process they went through to obtain authenticity. It can get a little convoluted and slow at times, but not to the point of being unbearable. I noticed that on the Region 1 disc there is another commentary by screenwriter Julian Fellowes, and it is disappointing that it has not been included in the Region 4 release.

The Making of Gosford Park - Presented in full frame and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, this is a typical making of documentary. Many interviews are here, including Robert Altman, and a lot of the cast. It runs for 19:52, and I found it to be very informative.

The Authenticity of Gosford Park - Running for 8:39, this is a brief look at how the production team went about recreating the sets for the 1930s era. It contains interviews with three people who were hired who actually worked in the time period in which the film was set. They were on set most of the time to tell the producers what was right and wrong, and how to do things so that they were authentic and true to the era. It is presented in full frame and in Dolby Digital 2.0.

Cast & filmmaker Q&A Session - Presented in full frame and Dolby Digital 2.0, this is a Q&A session with the cast and crew that was filmed at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation. The crew present is director Robert Altman, writer Julian Fellowes, and producer David Levy. The cast present are Bob Balaban, Kelly Macdonald, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam and Ryan Phillippe. Overall quite an interesting discussion.

Deleted Scenes - 15 deleted scenes in total, presented as one continuous piece and chaptered. They are presented in the original aspect ratio of the film which is 2.35:1, and in Dolby Digital 2.0. Commentary by the same team that does the feature commentary is optional.

Theatrical Trailer - Running for 1:48, the original theatrical trailer is presented in an aspect ratio the same as the DVD version of the film (1.78:1), and is in Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

  Overall  
Contract

With outstanding performances from the entire cast, amazing attention to detail on the sets and costumes, a fantastic Academy Award winning script and brilliant directing by Robert Altman, Gosford Park is without a doubt one of the standout films released this year on DVD. It is not, however, a film for everyone. Some might complain about its slow pace, the sometimes confusing relationships between the huge cast, and the fact that not much really happens on the surface. But if you are prepared to invest the time and brain power to properly view the film, it is well worth it and you will be rewarded with the full impact of one of the best films of the last few years.


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      And I quote...
    "A good transfer for an outstanding film, Gosford Park may not be a movie for the masses, but it is without doubt one of the finest films of the last few years..."
    - Robert Mack
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DE475
    • Speakers:
          Sony
    • Centre Speaker:
          Sony
    • Surrounds:
          Sony
    • Subwoofer:
          Sony Active Superwoofer
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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