'Gosford Park: Special Edition'
(Maggie Smith, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Gambon, Charles Dance, Michael Gambon, Richard E. Grant, Helen Mirren, et al / Blu-ray / R / (1991) 2018 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: In 2001, Robert Altman (MASH, The Long Goodbye) took the unexpected step into Agatha Christie territory with Gosford Park, a murder-mystery whodunit set in an English country house starring a host of British acting greats and with an Oscar-winning screenplay by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.
It would become a huge success with audiences and critics alike.
Blu-ray Verdict: Brilliant Acting! Brilliant Writing! Brilliant Directing! And it's not just because I have seen virtually every Merchant-Ivory/A&E/BBC/PBS costume drama and period mystery and spent a summer in junior high reading every Agatha Christie mystery that I think "Gosford Park" is terrific, trust me!
Robert Altman commissioned Juilian Fellowes (Lord Angus for 'Monarch of the Glen' fans so, of course, he could also advise on etiquette during filming) for a script with very specific guidelines to work within the bounds of a genre satire.
Thankfully, we are spared one of the usual easy target pickings, the Fascist sympathies of the aristocracy, by fixing the shooting party weekend as taking place very specifically in 1932.
The ensemble character acting and camera movement are simply masterful - with Altman's mandate that we only see scenes that the "downstairs" folk pass through or are in, equating them with the spying camera, and us, too, of course.
If these names weren't already a Who's Who of British (and two American) actors, each of their key scenes would be one of those "star making" break-outs.
In an interview included, Altman notes that he intentionally made most of the biggest stars "downstairs," though our guide through the very confusing relationships "upstairs" and "downstairs" is a newcomer, Mary Macdonald (interestingly the first actress cast for the film), representing the audience.
Another of the key performances is from another relative newcomer, Claudie Blakley as a put-upon parvenu; in putting the relationships into relief, particular the changes the weekend has wrought on the participants.
While Maggie Smith seems to stand out because her character is noisier, a fellow actress protested in an interview that Smith did not in fact get the best lines - she just did more with them - like what she does to the phrase "day-old marmalade."
Spotlighting particular performances could be endless - though of course I got a kick out of two of my favorites, Clive Owen, who fairly radiates sexuality here, and Ryan Phillippe, playing for both teams, plus Richard Grant's smirks are priceless. Helen Mirren is startlingly different than so many of her other roles.
The class differences even amusingly extend to the investigating policemen. The inclusion of Bob Balaban as a Hollywood producer (and co-producer of this movie) also opens up the film to Hollywood and American jokes.
The movie is really laugh out loud funny, and the full house I saw it with really got into it, particularly the visual jokes and overheard lines. It quickly spins serious as the camera restlessly glides throughout the house - the actors had to stay in character throughout all the scenes, adding chitchat to the script, as they had no idea where the camera would be.
Until the credits, I had no idea that Ivor Novello was a real songwriter, sung and played here charmingly by Jeremy Northam, and the characters' various reactions to his typical pop music of the day are a key element to the film. Watch! Learn! Enjoy! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Brand new 2K restoration from a 4K scan, carried out by Arrow films exclusively for this release, supervised and approved by director of photography Andrew Dunn
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Audio commentary by director Robert Altman, production designer Stephen Altman and producer David Levy
Audio commentary by writer-producer Julian Fellowes
Brand-new audio commentary by critics Geoff Andrew and David Thompson (author of Altman on Altman)
Introduction by critic Geoff Andrew
Brand new cast and crew interviews recorded exclusively for this release
The Making of Gosford Park archive featurette
Keeping Gosford Park Authentic archive featurette
Q&A Session with Altman and the cast
Fifteen deleted scenes with optional Altman commentary
Reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin
+ FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Sheila O Malley and an archive interview with Robert Altman