Sunday, January 27, 2008
I saw this for a second time last night and enjoyed it just as much as the first viewing. A wonderful cast including Maggie Smith, Kristen Scott Thomas, Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Jeremy Northam, Emily Watson and Richard E Grant bring this comedy-drama to life.
The setting is 1932 at a house party held by Sir William (Michael Gambon). The attendees of the house party are relatives or hangers-on mostly seeking money (in the form of allowances/jobs/deals etc). Of course they bring their valets/maids with them so the population of the house swells accordingly. An exception to the above is Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) who makes movies and has brought along an American, Mr Weissman (Bob Balaban), who is doing research for his next Charlie Chan movie. His valet (Ryan Phillipe) is actually an actor in disguise, doing research “below stairs”.
The stories of the house guests and those of their servants slowly reveals itself, particularly through Countess Trentham’s (Maggie Smith) maid, Mary (Kelly McDonald), who is new to being a lady’s maid and so everything she sees and hears is quite a surprise. Her naïvity is a wonderful foil for all the goings-on both above and below. Eventually there is a murder within the house and the majority of the guests and servants have a secret to hide – but did they have enough cause to murder someone?
Maggie Smith gives a wonderful performance as the Countess and although her part is not huge, she lights up the screen when given the opportunity. Helen Mirren is also wonderful as the very strict ‘perfect servant’ Mrs Wilson, the housekeeper. Kristen Scott Thomas plays the part of Sir William’s wife and is very easy to watch. Richard E Grant plays a snooty servant very well and Emily Watson’s maid Elsie is suitably subservient in public yet strongwilled and tired of the games in private. Kelly McDonald plays the naïve lady’s maid beautifully and has good interaction with her mistress, the Countess.
Not a fast paced movie by any stretch, but very watchable if you have the time and peace to enjoy it.