First, I must confess something.
It’s possible that the first time I watched Gosford Park, I fell asleep on the couch halfway through it. And it’s also possible that the last time I watched this great film, I also fell asleep. They were typically nights where I already had spent about 60% of my day watching films. It happens. But I’ve watched the entire film – which one of E’s favorites – without snoozing at least once. It’s a favorite in our household and he picks it often on his night.
Ok, now that my secret is out, let’s talk about Gosford Park.
Before “Downton Abbey”, there was Gosford Park. This 131 minute drama takes place in a lavish 1930s English country house. The McCordle family is hosting a weekend shooting party and their wealthy guests arrive with their servants in tow. Everyone has something to hide. Everyone is reminded of their “place”. At some point during the weekend, a murder occurs, startling the guests and servants. This upstairs/downstairs story transforms into a murder mystery as secrets are revealed and suspects are considered.
Robert Altman, who was in his mid-70s when he directed Gosford Park, was a remarkable filmmaker. His work is filled with amazing ensemble casting and performances (Nashville and M.A.S.H. are two that come to mind) and complex scenes. He was known to have natural dialogue in his films and when you watch these scenes unfold it’s like peeling back onion layers. Characters speak over each other, layering and weaving together context, clues and feelings. It’s amazing to watch as you realize how challenging this type of filmmaking can be to achieve.
This style plays out again in Gosford Park. To start, the cast is insane and far too talented: Helen Mirren, Kristin Scott Thomas, Bob Balaban, Michael Gambon, Kelly Macdonald, Clive Owen, Emily Watson, Ryan Phillippe and Stephen Fry. Our favorite, however, is Maggie Smith as Constance Trentham. Her sass and one liner delivery are the BEST. This ensemble perfectly crafts party conversations and gossip. The movement from both actor and camera are carefully staged revealing details and clues. Every time E and I watch this film, we find ourselves following a different character in a scene and (more so for me) catching something I missed before.
The actions leading to murder are methodical and humor is sprinkled throughout, making this film elaborate both on screen and on the page. Gosford Park was nominated for a slew of Academy Awards in 2002, winning for Best Writing (Written Directly for the Screen). Screenwriter Julian Fellowes went on to write and create “Downton Abbey”.
As you may expect with a weekend long party, various scenes in the film involve food. One of my favorite moments is the Bloody Mary that drops during the post-hunt brunch: a great visual hint of the looming murder to come.
As I was thinking about what meal would pair nicely with this film, it seemed fitting to pick something as creative (and possibly complex) as the film: roasting a small quail (or dove or other small game bird). But if you’re like me and you’re stuck in a city like Los Angeles, where game hunting is not exactly the norm, AND you don’t have a slew of downstair servants, go pick up a rotisserie chicken at Vons or Whole Foods and make it easy on yourself. After all, you must make sure you don’t exhaust yourself beforehand. Otherwise you may not find out who dun’ it!
Roasted Small Game Bird
From Joy of Cooking
All small birds, except coots, should be dry plucked. To use the entrails after cooking, sieve or chop the intestines and flambé them briefly in brandy.
Small birds should be barded or you may wrap them first in fig or grape leaves. All lend themselves to roasting and skewering or broiling from 3 to 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450°
Bard, 6 small game birds
It is not necessary to stuff them, although a few peeled grapes or bits of celery or parsley may be tucked inside and discarded later. Place in the pan with the birds:
1 Tablespoon butter
Bake the birds about 5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 350° and bake them 5 to 15 minutes longer, according to their size.
Timing in general varies from woodcock, 8 to 10 minute, to quail, unstuffed, 10 to 15 minutes; to stuffed, 15 to 18 minutes.
Have you seen Gosford Park? What movies do you ALWAYS fall asleep in? Did you try roasting a bird?