Gosford Park Blu-ray Review

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Robert Altman does Agatha Christie

by Casimir Harlow Nov 25, 2018 at 6:43 AM

  • Movies review


    Gosford Park Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £14.99

    Gosford Park Film Review

    Celebrated auteur Robert Altman came to the UK to put his own spin on an Agatha Christie-style period murder mystery with his last great gem, Gosford Park.

    The late, great, Altman was always famed for his eclectic, expansive ensemble epics, from Nashville to Short Cuts, but he'd handled classic murder mystery before in the underrated Elliott Gould-starring Raymond Chandler gem, The Long Goodbye, so going full Christie here wasn't exactly a stretch, working with Downton Abbey writer/creator Julian Fellowes (who would win an Oscar for his screenplay, and would conceive Downton as a sequel before reworking it as an unrelated but similarly themed TV series set earlier) to fashion a period whodunnit in classic Altman style.

    The story follows a group of pretentious, wealthy guests who gather for a weekend of shooting at the titular estate, enjoying the upstairs accommodation whilst their respective servants, also from different backgrounds, mingle in the quarters below. When a murder occurs suddenly everyone becomes a suspect.

    Altman's last great feature.

    Altman's last great feature - he would sadly pass away just a few short years after - compiled a huge ensemble cast featuring Dumbledore himself, Michael Gambon, Eileen Atkins, Helen Mirren, Charles Dance, Alan Bates, Stephen Fry, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emily Watson, Maggie Smith and a suitably slimy Richard E. Grant, with young roles for Kelly Macdonald, Clive Owen and Ryan Phillippe. Juggling such a vast array of characters - and these are just the headliners - is no mean feat, but Altman does it with aplomb, giving an air of intentionally obvious mystery to Phillippe's unexpectedly forthright servant, some gravitas to Owen's orphan, and sympathy for Macdonald, who loves playing the meek mouse. Gambon commands the stage, and every production could do with more Charles Dance.

    As the fractured family and servants fall apart, rifts appear, slights and tragedies surface and all the airs and graces are dropped in favour of trying to get to the truth, something made particularly complicated by the manner of the death. It's a gorgeous, lavish production, epic in scale and impressive in scope, with Altman at his best bringing the best out of all the key players and keeping you engaged for the duration - which is quite a while even before the murder takes place. Arguably not his finest work - indeed underrated gems like The Long Goodbye sometimes transcend the more obvious 'classics' - it's still a great final classic to add to his filmography.

    Gosford Park Blu-ray Picture

    Gosford Park Gosford Park Blu-ray Picture
    Gosford Park comes to Region B-locked UK Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow, who deliver the 2001 film with a 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1 widescreen.

    According to Arrow the presentation is a "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". There's some obfuscation in the concept of a 2K restoration from a 4K scan, but nonetheless it is clear that this Blu-ray has been remastered at a level vastly beyond the simple 1080p means that it displays at, and the end result certainly shows that.

    Gosford Park has always been a very soft period piece.

    Nonetheless, Gosford Park has always been a very soft period piece; the entire movie looks like it was (intentionally) shot in candlelight, and this low level lighting has a completely understandable but also wholly damaging effect on the ensuing softness, leaving even this newly minted remaster unable to produce a spectacular presentation, even if it is clearly and unequivocally a step up over any prior releases.

    Detail affords skin textures, hair and the intricate table settings some marvellous nuance, with background flourishes keenly observed and the grand house environment brought to life with all of its rich trappings. There is some of that aforementioned softness which is at play particularly during the evening indoor sequences, where the lighting simply doesn't afford character inspection or broader scenery the kind of crystal clarity that may otherwise be pulled from a film print from a 2001 production. Nevertheless, it is an impressively textured piece, for the most part.

    The colour scheme is suitably rich, and bathed in deep mahoganies, with a wood brown dominance but also some nice golden hues, off-whites and deep blacks. Hardly teeming with primary pop, it's a natural palette with some strong period tones consummate to the style. It will never win any demo awards, but that's more the source material than the remaster, which does an otherwise excellent job and delivering the movie better than it's ever looked before.

    Gosford Park Blu-ray Sound

    Gosford Park Gosford Park Blu-ray Sound
    The accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track will hardly blow you away but does deliver a strong aural component to the proceedings, enjoying a number of original songs (actually sung by in-character Jeremy Northam no less) and a playful but darkly laced score beneath it.

    A strong and faithful accompaniment.

    Dialogue remains well positioned, delivered with clarity in spite of the whispers and murmurs that populate, as well as the gruff shouts and booms, taking precedence over the array and remaining the single most important characteristic of the soundtrack, whilst effects are understandably limited, giving a little breadth in bringing large dinner gatherings, music in the lounge, and hunting parties some life, whilst booming shotgun blasts echo out across the array to provide some brief bombastic distraction.

    The score plays out beneath, only really invading during the in-movie song-and-piano skits, and giving the surrounds a little more to work with. Hardly demo, though that's largely determined by the material rather than the technical prowess of the track itself, it's still a strong and faithful accompaniment to the feature.

    Gosford Park Blu-ray Extras

    Gosford Park Gosford Park Blu-ray Extras
    Arrow pull out all of the stops for a great package that includes the already plentiful extra features that were available before as well as some strong new additions.

    Previous releases already included two Audio Commentaries; one with director Robert Altman, production designer Stephen Altman and producer David Levy, and the second with writer-producer Julian Fellowes, but this new release adds a third, newly-recorded Commentary from critics Geoff Andrew and David Thompson (author of Altman on Altman).

    Arrow pull out all of the stops for a great package.

    There's a new Introduction by one of the same critics, Geoff Andrew, and several new Cast and Crew Interviews, as well as the old archival Featurettes The Making of Gosford Park, and Keeping Gosford Park Authentic; the Q&A session with Altman and his cast, and the slew of some 15 Deleted Scenes with optional director's commentary.

    The disc is rounded off by a Trailer and the package is rounded off by a Collector's booklet with further reading and stills from the production.

    Gosford Park Blu-ray Verdict

    Gosford Park Gosford Park Blu-ray Verdict
    Classic Altman.

    Altman does his own take on the equivalent of an Agatha Christie murder mystery, crafting an epic period drama with dozens of characters interacting in a large estate when a murder suddenly takes place and a multitude of suspects spring up, each with equally plausible motives. It's classic Altman, despite the atypical setting for the auteur, and features an all-star ensemble cast.

    Arrow's newly-remastered ("2K from a 4K scan") Blu-ray release affords the film the best video it's ever had - notwithstanding the inherently soft source film, likely due to lighting choices - as well as strong audio and a plethora of extras which build upon and add to the already plentiful extras that were previously included. It's a great package and a recommended release; if you enjoyed Downton Abbey, then it's well worth seeing the film that loosely inspired it.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £14.99

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