Robert Altman's forty-year career demonstrates an extraordinary creative range. His carefully selected ensemble casts, his collaborative working process, and his signature use of multiple story lines have resulted in numerous classic films. Now, this American original has "crossed the pond" to make
Producer Bob Balaban remembers, "About two years ago, I had the very simple germ of an film idea — one that I thought Robert Altman would be a wonderful director for. lie and I started talking about making a seemingly traditional 1930s murder mystery, set in an English country house over several days, that was told entirely from the point of view of the servants."
Robert Altman adds, "I think I said, 'I've never done a murder mystery before, although I've done almost every kind of genre.' I love to take genres and turn them over a little bit, look at them differently. So we started talking and looked at all sorts of material, including Agatha Christie works, and none of it was quite right. But it grew from there: I didn't really want to do a 'whodunit' but rather a 'that it was done.' We decided to deal with the social issues within the period. At first we set it in 1934 or
1935, but then decided that we didn't want the rise of Hitler to color everything, so we set it just before that, in 1932. I also like that period because I was alive and I have a frame of reference for it, rather than just reading someone else's reports of it."
Screenwriter Julian Fellowes was already working on another script with Balaban. When Balaban introduced him to Altman and brought him into
Gosford Park discussions, Fellowes found himself drawn to the idea's potential, the collaboration, and the project's place in Altman's oeuvre: "I think that what interests Bob [Altman] for movie projects are narratives wherein people arbitrarily have to share a geographical position, and not by emotional choice: the gathering of a family wedding, for example [as in
A Wedding], or the variety of individuals employed by a Hollywood studio [as in
The Player]. They are brought together, not necessarily because they want to be together, and therefore they almost always have entirely different agendas.
"It occurred to Bob that an English house party in the 1930s would lend itself to this. To him, the servant/employer situation affords a rich setting of people with completely different lives and with different aims — all under one roof. The film would be 'servant-led' and, in deference to Agatha Christie and the whole country-house-mystery genre, he decided there should be a murder which would act as a device to stop any of the parties from leaving the house. I had to come up with the characters and the stories to flesh this idea out. I was familiar with the way these houses were run at that time, and Bob was determined that it be based on absolute truth — i.e., he wanted the details of the varied activities carried out in a house like Gosford Park, above and below stairs, to be correct."
To preserve the project's foundation in truth, it was also decided early on that
Gosford Park would be filmed in the U.K., and almost entirely with U.K. actors. When the project was announced in the late summer of 2000, it may have seemed strange to some that a quintessentially American director would be exploring such quintessentially English subject matter. Would the filmmaker who had so richly captured
Nashville's burgeoning country music scene and The Player's closed-ranks insularity of the film industry be the right man to suss out the classes and class differences of
As Alan Bates (cast as Gosford Park butler Jennings) explains, "It doesn't strike me as odd because I think Robert is a great director of nuance, behavior, atmosphere, and mood — these qualities are potent in all of his films. After all, this film is about pe
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