Gosford Park Parent Guide
An upstairs/downstairs murder mystery that doesn't take itself too seriously.
Parent Movie Review
It’s 1932 and Sir William McCordle (William Gambon) is hosting a house party at Gosford Park. The guests range from the film star Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) to the imperious Lady Constance Trentham (Maggie Smith) to desperate businessman Anthony Meredith (Tom Hollander) to Hollywood producer Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban). They arrive on the estate looking forward to a weekend of pheasant hunting, fine dining, and socializing. But then murder upsets the best laid plans…
The affluent guests aren’t the only ones caught up in the drama. The sometimes fractious servants below stairs are ruled over by the unflappable housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren) and her arch-rival, the cook, Mrs. Croft (Eileen Atkins). And their numbers swell as the weekend visitors bring servants with them to share the boot room, the dining room, and bedrooms…
Gosford Park is a murder mystery that doesn’t take itself too seriously, although it never descends into farce or parody. It is strongly inspired by Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries with their abundance of motives and satisfying period detail. And this film has no shortage of motives: a man has fathered children out of wedlock, a woman is having an affair, another woman is being blackmailed by a past lover, a woman is angry with her husband over his prior affair, a man is desperate to conclude a business deal to stave off bankruptcy, a servant isn’t who he pretends to be, another servant has come to Gosford Park to further his own agenda, a servant is hiding a dark secret from the past, and so on. The only thing more challenging than figuring out whodunnit is figuring out why.
Fans of movie murder mysteries will have fun with Gosford Park. The plot is adequate, the sets are lovely, and the costumes are exquisite. But it’s the acting that really shines. In a role that predates her appearance on Downton Abbey, Dame Maggie Smith plays Lady Constance Trentham, an acerbic aristocratic who clothes her stinging barbs in a thin cloak of politeness, to the discomfiture of her conversational victim, and the enjoyment of the audience. Her performance alone is reason enough to watch the film, but it also benefits from the talents of Helen Mirren, Eileen Atkins, Derek Jacobi, Emily Watson, Natasha Wightman, and a score of gifted actors.
Parents considering Gosford Park for family viewing will want to carefully evaluate the film’s profanity, including six sexual expletives, and its sexual content. There is no graphic nudity, but non-explicit sexual activity is part of several scenes and there is a chilling moment when a man tries to sexually assault a woman, who fortunately escapes. There is also almost non-stop drinking and smoking. Ironically, for a movie based on murder, there is little violence except for the stabbing itself, and virtually no blood. As for the messages the movie conveys, the most prominent involve the consequences of oppressing those who are powerless to resist.
Fans of period drama will be intrigued with Gosford Park’s trenchant observations on the British class system but this bit of social history won’t overshadow the film’s ability to provide a fun cinematic escape. And that’s what Gosford Park does best: it provides an escape to the past for viewers who want to soak up the bygone glory and think (but not too hard) about whodunnit.Directed by Robert Altman. Starring Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Eileen Atkins, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jeremy Northam, Charles Dance, Kelly Macdonald,. Running time: 131 minutes. Theatrical release January 18, 2002. Updated September 19, 2019
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Rating & Content Info
Why is Gosford Park rated R? Gosford Park is rated R by the MPAA for some language and brief nudity
Violence: A man shouts at his wife and pushes her. Guns are used in a hunting context. A man at the hunt gets nicked by shot in the ear. An angry man shouts and knocks over a coffee cup. A character gets stabbed with a knife. There is reference to someone being poisoned. A man pours hot coffee on a character’s lap. There is a mention of finding body parts.
Sexual Content: A woman is warned about watching where a man puts his hands. A man tells a woman she’s beautiful when she resists him. A man brushes his hand across a woman’s chest. There is a coded allusion to homosexuality. A man kisses a woman against her will and pushes her onto the bed. She screams and pushes him off and runs away. There is a scene of sexual activity: we see a man’s clothed backside and a woman’s legs around him. A married woman makes an assignation with a man. Women are seen in the bathtub: their backs and shoulders are visible. A man undoes the back of a married woman’s dress on her bed: it is implied that sexual activity follows but none is shown. A man grabs and kisses a woman.
Profanity: A conservative count of swearing in this movie comes to just over a dozen, with six sexual expletives and a smattering of anatomical words, scatological terms, terms of deity, and crude language.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Frequent social drinking, sometimes to excess. A man encourages a woman to drink even though she doesn’t want to. Smoking is ubiquitous. Women put a drunk man to bed and take off his clothes: no nudity is seen.
Page last updated September 19, 2019
Loved this movie? Try these books…
If you get a kick out of English country house murder mysteries set amongst the upper classes in the between-the-war era, you can’t go wrong reading Agatha Christie’s novels. Some of her stories set in country houses include The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Murder at the Vicarage, and The Sittaford Mystery. Other mysteries she set during this period include Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans, and The ABC Murders.
Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series also features numerous mysteries set in the 1920s and 1930s. Daisy’s adventures begin with Death at Wentwater Court. Subsequent adventures set in country houses include The Winter Garden Mystery, A Mourning Wedding, Gunpowder Plot, and Heirs of the Body.
Related home video titles:
Downton Abbey was written by Julian Fellowes, who also wrote the script for Gosford Park. Maggie Smith’s Lady Trentham character bears a strong resemblance to the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley she plays in Downton Abbey.
The Remains of the Day is another story set in a British country home in the past. It begins in 1936 and follows Stevens, the perfect butler; Miss Denton, the perfect housekeeper; and Lord Darlington, the very imperfect aristocrat who owns the estate.
For a murder mystery set in the same era and with a similar vibe, check out the movie adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.