Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Look Back at Gosford Park

Before the intrigue, splendor and Sunday night "must see" addiction that is Downton Abbey, there was the film Gosford Park (2001). A story of the upper crust world of nobility and their servants in thirties England, the Robert Altman film was reminiscent of Upstairs/Downstairs with a little Agatha Christie thrown in for good measure.

Production designer Stephen Altman (and son of the director), created the authentic period interiors for the story of a group of wealthy Brits and one American who assemble for a shooting weekend at a country estate known as Gosford Park. The film's all-star cast includes Kristen Scott Thomas, Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, and the late Alan Bates and was nominated for seven Oscars.

Upstairs cast....

and downstairs. 
Shot on location in the UK, it took two estates and a soundstage  to make up Gosford Park -- Wrotham Park, Syon House (upstairs) and Shepperton Studios (downstairs). Altman and set decorator Anna Pinnock took painstaking care to use colors and furnishings authentic to the period with red as the predominant color. Altman explains, "In houses like these, there are antiques from two or three hundred years before, so we just added in layers of modernity. We wanted to make sure it was comfortable and livable, since many of the stately homes we'd seen were like museums and didn't seem like homes."

Wrotham Park

Working on a period film requires extensive research and the ultimate set decorators dream. Altman hired as consultant a butler and cook who had been in domestic service in England in the thirties. From the proper table settings to the appropriate wardrobe for the staff, Altman and his team wanted to make sure they portrayed domestic life in a noble home in an accurate fashion. Rooms were designed for sewing, ironing, making jams and jellies, and even a “brushing room” was added, where guests would be “brushed down” and thus not carry any mud or dirt into the house. I guess it was the precursor to what we know now as the mud room:)

Party guests

Stephen Fry and Kristen Scott Thomas

Costume designer Jenny Beavan's satin gown for Kristen Scott Thomas

Ryan Phillipe as the valet 
The film has many parallels to Downtown Abbey - lots of great period interiors in an idyllic English estate, the wonderful Maggie Smith as scene stealer Constance, Countess of Trentham, devoted maids and mysterious handsome valets, and a classic study of the British class system. Catch it on DVD after Season Two of the PBS show is over and when a fix of all things Brit is in order.

Photo Credits: USA Films


  1. Gosford Park is one of my favorites! So is Downton Abbey. No wonder since they were both written by Julian Fellowes.

    Gosford Park, IMHO, is such a beautiful movie, because of the sets and costumes. The story is pure delight!

    I'm so glad you posted on this film!!

  2. Thanks for mentioning Julian Fellowes and yes, he is responsible for both these outstanding shows.

  3. I really loved this movie when it came out and saw it once again several years ago. It's really one I should own, and indeed I will save it for the end of this season of Downton (which I do not even want to contemplate...)

  4. I already dread this season ending! Just heard today Shirley MacLaine has joined the cast as Elizabeth McGovern's mother...this should be fun!