Murder at midnight
2001 film directed by Robert Altman
, set in a large country house in 1930s Britain. The film features an all-star ensemble cast, which includes Alan Bates, Stephen Fry
, Michael Gambon, Richard E. Grant
, Derek Jacobi, Helen Mirren
, Clive Owen
, Maggie Smith and Emily Watson
Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon), a rich guy, invites some more of his rich friends to a hunting trip at Gosford Park. They also bring all their servants.
A few days later, Sir William gets murdered.
More than just a basic murder mystery story, Gosford Park
focuses more on the servants (so much so, there's one in literally every scene) and the division between both ends of the British class system than the rich murdered guy and his rich "friends". The whodunnit plot is used as a device to examine the characters and their relationships with one another, and as a reason for the film to come to an end.
Many of the scenes feature the ensemble improvising dialogue in character, and since the camera is seldom still, the audience drifts from conversation to conversation like an eavesdropper. There are also a lot of sub-plots, which would take forever to cover here.
The screenplay is by Julian Fellowes, who would later create the popular British television drama Downton Abbey
. Like Gosford Park
, it would be set in an English manor house and star Maggie Smith.
Provides Examples Of...
- The Alcoholic: Jennings.
- All for Nothing: A subplot concerns Mary being instructed to clean a soiled shirt that Lady Constance wants to wear the following day. Mary goes to a huge amount of trouble to get it done in time, and is attacked by a fellow member of staff along the way, only for Constance to decide not to wear the shirt after all.
- What makes this more poignant and futile is that Constance didn't do any it out of meanness; in fact she's actually surprisingly friendly with her in other scenes. She just has no idea the lengths of effort it would take Mary to clean her shirt.
- All-Star Cast. Definitely.
- Ambiguously Bi: Henry Denton, who sleeps with Lady Sylvia, try to seduce Mary and it's implied he has a relationship with Mr. Weissman
- Ambiguously Gay: It's implied that Mr. Weissman has a relationship with Henry Denton.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Most of the aristocracts come off as selfish and arrogant.
- Asshole Victim: Sir William.
- Attempted Rape: It's difficult to say how far it would have gone, but at the very least Mary is molested by Henry after she gets lost in the corridors.
- Beneath Suspicion: All the working class characters are considered this by the detective since the murder victim was upper-class and the detective is only interested in anyone who had "a real connection" with the victim. Had he bothered to question any of the servants, he might have learned that the victim had slept with some of them.
- Big Damn Kiss: Parks to Mary. and Colonel Meredith to his wife.
- Bitch Alert: Lady Sylvia and the Countess of Trentham
- Blackmail: Mr. Nesbitt blackmails Isobel by threatening to tell her parents that Freddie Nesbitt made her pregnant, and that she subsequently had an abortion.
- British Accents
- The Butler Did It: Invoked and Averted. A valet did stab Sir William, but his mother figured it out and poisoned Sir William ahead of time. There's no law against stabbing a corpse.
- Butt Monkey: Mabel Nesbitt, who comes from working class backgrounds and now no longer has any money. Constance makes a point to make fun of the fact that she brought only a single off-the-rack evening dress.
- And Denton to the servants after they find out what he really is.
- The Casanova: Sir William courted female workers of his factory, often getting them pregnant and then forcing them to either give up their baby to keep their job or to let them keep the baby and then fire the woman. Although its debatable how consensual some of those dalliances were.
- Closed Circle: After the murder, none of the guests are allowed to leave.
- Contrived Clumsiness: After a man posing as a servant reveals himself to be an actor and moves from "below stairs" to "above stairs". To punish him for his deception, the butler spills hot coffee in his lap. He immediately accuses the servant of doing it on purpose, but it's futile at that point. His fellow servants quickly hide their smiles, and the aristocrats think it's pretty funny, too.
- Cultural Stereotypes: The wealthy. Specifically, the titled wealthy; all but a handful of the Upstairs characters are absolutely awful people and dicks of the highest order (and those Upstairs characters who are more likable tend to also be of 'lower' station). That said, the Downstairs characters aren't exactly pure as driven snow, but we're clearly encouraged to sympathise with them a bit more.
- Dangerous Deserter: Completely averted with Jennings, who lives with shame because of it. When Dexter eventually finds out, he doesn't rub it in his face and tries to comfort him with something along the lines of "not everyone was born to fight a war".
- Deadpan Snarker: Lady Constance. Also Mrs. Wilson.
- Deconstruction: Of Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries which take place in grand, aristocratic circles and focus on very wealthy and important people. The plot prefers instead to focus on the relationships between these people and their servants and play with several of the common character types who appear in these stories, with the actual murder being more of a background event. Also, the detective is a blundering incompetent who ignores or destroys important evidence; it's suggested that because of this, Sir William's murderer will never be identified.
- Did You Think I Can't Feel?
- The Ditz: Anyone who knows how the police are supposed to inspect crimes should know that Inspector Thompson clearly does not know how to do his job. His assistant on the other hand...
- Dysfunctional Family: The McCordles are one big happy family. Well, if you ignore Sir William's affairs, Lady Sylvia's affairs and, for that matter, the likelihood that their daughter is having an affair. Not to mention Lady Sylvia's contempt for her child.
- Empathic Environment: Inverted. It's raining before the murder and beautifully sunny afterwards.
- Exact Eavesdropping
- Everyone Is a Suspect: To the audience, anyway. There are murder weapons (bottle of poison, etc.) all over the house. Quite often, the camera cheekily lingers on them when they're in shot.
- Fainting: Lady Lavinia faints when she catches sight of the dead body.
- Fake Brit: American Ryan Philippe plays Scotsman Henry Denton. Also, In-Universe as Henry Denton isn't actually Scottish, but American.
- Fish out of Water: Poor Mabel...
- Gentleman Snarker
- Genteel Interbellum Setting
- Gold Digger: Freddie Nesbitt to his wife, Mabel; Rupert Standish is trying it with Isobel. Also, with the exception of the Stockbridges and Weismann's group, this is the real reason the guests are there: they all want money from Sir William, either though business deals, charity or blackmail.
- Happily Married: The Merediths. Notable considering they are the only happily married couple in the film.
- Hidden Depths: Constance Trentham has one brief moment where she expresses her dislike of fox hunting. She sounds so weary and tired at this stage.
- Historical-Domain Character: Ivor Novello was an accomplished and much-loved movie star and songwriter in his time. The songs the character performs during the film are some of his most famous, although the real Novello reportly considered his own voice very poor. As the film implies, he was homosexual.
- Ice Queen: Lady Sylvia. You can practically feel the cold aura around her - yet despite this, she keeps up an inpenetrable facade of charm and manners.
- Idle Rich: Most of the "upstairs" cast.
- Jerkass: Just about everyone in the Upstairs, with some exceptions.
- Kick the Dog: Literally, by Lady Sylvia.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Have you read the article above?
- Lonely Rich Kid: Isabel
- The Mole: Denton acts as one of the servants when he is really an American actor who spies on the Downstairs for research for Weissman. He tells Jennings, and the word spreads in the Downstairs, causing all the servants to hate him.
- My Beloved Smother: Lady Sylvia to Isobel. It's an especially sad example considering Sylvia is incredibly controlling of her daughter (even picking out her clothes for her and ridiculing them once she's wearing them), but without any of the warmth that this trope sometimes implies.
- Mysterious Past: Parks, Mrs Wilson and, to a lesser extent, Mrs Croft. It's all revealed near the end.
- Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers and posters for the film made it seem like a somewhat light-hearted Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, when in fact the murder doesn't happen until very late in the film, is resolved just as quickly, and could hardly be called the focus of the film anyway.
- Nice to the Waiter: A small example. Lady Trentham is considerably nicer to her servant Mary than she is to the rest of the cast. She often behaves more like a bossy mother or aunt towards her. She even calls her by her first name (since her surname is too hard for her to pronounce).
- Nobility Marries Money:
- Sir William McCordle was a wealthy industrialist who married Lady Sylvia, the daughter of an Earl whose family was impoverished. Sir William pays an allowance to his wife's aunt, Constance, Countess of Trentham; he expresses his intention to stop paying this money before he is murdered.
- The Honourable Freddie Nesbitt married his wife, Mabel, who was the daughter of a glove manufacturer. Their marriage isn't happy.
- No Ending: Only the murder plot and a few others are concluded. All of the other plots are left up in the air, including Isobel's heavily-implied abortion and the altered relationship between Mabel and Freddie. The resolved plots include Isobel standing up to her blackmailer and sending him packing, Colonel Meredith fixing up his relationship with his wife (though his business venture does seem kaput) and Elsie (it's heavily implied) manages to go into show business.
- No Hero to His Valet: Cleverly invoked and subverted, since Sir William's valet, Probert, just adores him.
- Not Now, Kiddo:
Constable Dexter: Sir, someone's traipsed a load of mud in down here.
Inspector Thompson: Not now, Dexter, please.
- Nouveau Riche: Mabel's family were working class, but her father made money in business. Her husband squandered it all, so she's not only out of place among the aristocrats, but she doesn't even have the money to pretend that she's on their level.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: A variation. The downstairs staff are referred to by their master and mistresses's names.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Why Mary realizes that there's something off with Denton. Also during his second night with Lady Sylvia.
- Parental Abandonment: Mrs. Wilson, but under duress.
- Patricide: One of the motives for the murder.
- Pet the Dog: The Countess of Trentham is revealed to have a softer side in her last line of the film
- The Place
- Police Are Useless: Inspector Thompson is. PC Dexter is not, but is outranked.
- Pretty in Mink: Most of the upstairs women.
- The Quiet One: Robert Parks. In the DVD Commentary the director comments that actor Clive Owen said of his character that he would always say as little as possible, followed by the director's astonishment that it was the first time he had ever heard of an actor demanding fewer lines.
- Red Herring: At the start of the film the camera lingers on the safe where the guests' jewellery is kept, but this doesn't figure in the story at all.
- The Reveal: A lot of things are revealed in the end. Mary deduces a lot of the murder, and Parks and Mrs Wilson fill in the rest for her.
- Running Gag:
- Inspector Thompson being interrupted every time he tries to introduce himself.
- "Take/Move that filthy/vile dog/animal out of here." People from Upstairs and Downstairs really don't like Pip. Except William...and Elsie.
- Spoiled Sweet: Lavinia
- Stealth Insult: Constance tells Mabel how clever she is for only bringing a single evening dress to the excursion. She's making fun of the fact that Mabel lacks the money to afford nice clothes.
- Stiff Upper Lip: Upstairs is somewhere between this and Cosy Catastrophe. Even after the discovery that Sir William wasn't murdered by a burglar but instead poisoned by someone else in the house, no-one seems particularly concerned. It helps that everyone hated him, of course.
- It's actually pointed out by the character's it was fortunate that there was at least one person actively mourning Sir William, Louisa Stockbridge (who was in love with him and possibly having an affair), and thus helping deflect some of the suspicion for the rest of the group.
- Straight Gay: Novello, Weissman and (probably) Arthur.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Robert and Mary.
- Unrequited Love: Dorothy towards Jennings, who is very reluctant. This leads to her giving Colonel Meredith the following epiphany-inducing and love-affirming revelation.
Dorothy: I believe in love. Not just getting it, but giving it. I think that if you're able to love someone, even if they don't know it, even if they can't love you back, then it's worth it.
- Who Murdered the Asshole: Though the victim as we see him is portrayed relatively sympathetically, seeming to be a fairly nice old duffer with a horrible harpy of a wife (she tears chunks out of him at dinner in front of all their friends), his past is not so clear and when he is murdered it turns out everyone had a motive. Though in fact all the people with real, personal motives are ignored as they are only the servants.