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The movie is reminiscent of Upstairs Downstairs, an Agatha Christie novel, and of an elaborate game of Clue. In-between the two world wars, in the rainy fall of 1932, Countess Constance Trentham (acidly portrayed by Maggie Smith) gets into her car to go from her estate to Gosford Park, her niece Lady Sylvia McCordle's estate for a weekend hunting party. On the way there, the Countess forces her maid Mary Machreadle to get out in the pouring rain in order to open a bottle for her. While stopping the car on the side of the road, they meet the matinee idol, Ivor Novello, and his producer friend, Morris Weisman, who are also on their way to Gosford Park. The maid Mary is star struck, while Constance is irritated and snobby.
The guests arrive at Gosford park and are greeted by Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and Lady Sylvia McCordle (Kristin Scott Thomas), fresh from riding her horse. The hosts have organized a weekend hunting party at their country manor Gosford Park. Sylvia's Aunt Constance, Sylvia's sisters Luisa (Geraldine Sommerville from Aristocrats) and Lavinia and their respective husbands, Lord Stockbridge, and the Commander are guests. Sir William's cousin, the matinee idol Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam), brings along the Jewish vegetarian Hollywood producer, Morris Weisman (Bob Balaban). (A vegetarian at a hunting party!) The honorable Freddy Nesbitt brings along his commoner wife Mabel. Finally Isobel, Sir William's daughter's suitor Sir Rupert Standish arrives with his friend Mr. Blount. That is a tally of 3 hosts and 9 upstairs guests.
Moving on to the downstairs or servants' quarters, the butler is Jennings (Alan Bates); Mrs. Croft (Eileen Atkins) is the cook; Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren) is the housekeeper; Probert (Derek Jacobi) is Sir William's valet; Lewis is Lady Sylvia's maid; George is the footman, and Elsie (Emily Watson) is the head house maid. The upstairs guests also bring along their own servants; every lady has a lady's maid, and every gentleman has a valet. Most notably, Lord Stockbridge's valet is Robert Parks (Clive Owens of Croupier), Countess Trentham's maid is the timid scottish Mary Machreadle (the decidedly untimid girl from Trainspotting and Elizabeth), and Morris Weisman's valet is the scottish Henry Denton (Ryan Phillipe). The servants are called by the name of their employers, i.e. Mary's name is Trentham. Noticeably without servants are Freddy and Mabel Nesbitt because they are impoverished. Freddy is blackmailing Isobel in order to get a job with her father. He is threatening to tell Sir William about their affair.
Lavinia and the Commander are also impoverished; Sir William has decided to pull out of the Commander's ridiculous scheme to sell boots to the Sudanese soldiers. Sylvia did the best out of the 3 sisters. Their father was an Earl but now "doesn't have a pot to piss in." She and Luisa cut cards to decide who would marry William. William is noveau riche; he used to own factories or sweat shops where he lecherously preyed on his young female working girls. Lord Stockbridge is aristocratic and a war hero, and Luisa and he are well off. Aunt Constance, the countess, depends on William's allowance for her livelihood. Sir Rupert, Isobel's suitor is a youngest son "with the taste of a Marquis, but the income of a vicar." Thus he wishes to marry Isobel for her father's money. William flirts with anything in a skirt. He has a filthy little dog that everyone but Elsie hates. When she gives it to him he brushes the dog hair off her breasts and she seems to enjoy it. William also tries to kiss Luisa, but she slyly avoids him. Sylvia flirts with Lord Stockbridge but he seems to think she is vulgar. Mabel is mad that Freddy flirts with Isobel.
Downstairs, the valet Parks, and the maid Mary are attracted to each other, and he tells her he will surprise her. During the first afternoon, Ivor Novello plays the piano to entertain the guests. Aunt Constance is haughty to him and demeans him every chance she can. "tell me, how does it feel when your film just flops like that?"
During the first night, the servants eat dinner downstairs and sit according to the ranks of their employers. The countess's maid Mary is the guest of honor and she gets to sit next to the butler. Mary is also the main character of the movie and many key events unfold through her eyes. Henry Denton asks how many of the servant's parents were in service too. Many raise their hands except Robert Parks, who says he was an orphan in London. Denton acts suspiciously. His scottish accent is off and he is nosy and pokes around. However, he does get to dress the movie star, much to the chagrin of the star struck and jealous footman.
The upstairs guests eat an elaborate dinner, served by the footmen. Morris Weisman tells everyone he produces Chalrie Chan mystery movies. The next one will be set in an English manor house, during the weekend of a hunting party, much like in real life. Countess Trentham asks Morris who is the murderer in his movie. When he says he can't say she assures him none of them will actually see it. Sir Rupert and Mr. Blount have arrived late so they must eat off a tray in the billiard room. Mr. Blount tells Rupert he should find a way to get past Sir William in order to marry Isobel. After dinner, the men smoke cigars and the women go back to their rooms. Henry Denton flirts with Lady Sylvia and she tells him to bring her a glass of milk at 1 am and to keep her from being bored at that time. Henry goes to the gay movie producer Morris Weisman's room and Weisman asks him if he is coming back later that night. Henry says they shouldn't risk it. Weisman makes Henry take his dirty clothes or the other servants will think Henry doesn't care. Henry shares a bedroom with Robert Parks and Mary shares a bedroom with Elsie. When Mary wanders into the wrong hallway, Henry tries to rape her but is interrupted by Parks. After Henry is unsuccessful with Mary he tells Parks he has a date with a hot glass of milk and goes off to accompany Lady Sylvia. Mary goes back to her own room and remembers that she has to wash the Countess's shirt for the next day. When Mary goes to the kitchen to wash the shirt she sees the fat kitchen maid, Bertha, having sex with a man. When she goes back down the hall, she sees Sir William and assumes it must have been him. She tells Elsie, but she says it is impossible.
The next day, the upstairs guests are off to the hunt. The men carry guns and shoot pheasants in the air. The Countess has breakfast in bed and complains about the bought marmalade. Afterward, the ladies are off to brunch and are making fun of Mabel, accusing her of wearing black velvet. Isobel tells the Countess not to be a snob; Lady Sylvia comments on Isobel's dreadful outfit, which she herself bought. During the hunt, Sir William's ear is almost blown off by a lone shot. Afterwards, they all go to a stone gazebo for lunch. The Commander irritates Sir William by insisting on the investment in his scheme.
During dinner for the second night, Elsie is serving food, and daringly speaks back to Lady Sylvia, for her unfair treatment of Sir William. Elsie then runs out of the dining room, knowing she will be sacked in the morning. Henry Denton tries to sleep with her but she rejects him. Sir William angrily goes to his study. All the rest of the upstairs guests go into the drawing room, and Ivor plays the piano and sings songs he has composed. The servants are ecstatic at his playing and crowd outside the room to hear and to dance to the music. The bridge playing Countess dislikes the vulgar music and insists that the other guests not encourage Ivor to continue. The women avoid Mabel because she wear the same machine made green dress every evening, wears the wrong shoes, and is not of their class. Freddy only married her because her father owned a glove factory. Now that his money has run out, he resents her and is after Isobel. Isobel gives him a check to stop appease his blackmailing but Mabel forces him to rip it up and he suggests she buy a new frock with the pieces of the ripped up check. During the singing and bridge playing, Freddy and the ruined Commander slip out of the room. In the study, Sir William is served tea by Mrs. Wilson, but he knocks it out of her hand and asks for a whisky. She obliges. Later on, while Ivor is still playing, a pair of legs walks out to put on muddy shoes, slips a missing knife out of bag, goes to the study, and stabs Sir William in the chest. When Luisa goes to find him, she screams and everyone comes in. Lavinia faints, and Jennings kicks Morris Weisman off the phone so that he call the police. An incompetent inspector arrives (Stephen Fry looking very much like Oscar Wilde). Everyone gets to go to bed, but there is a house arrest for all the guests and servants.
Lady Sylvia is once again accompanied by Henry Denton because as she says, life must go on. Luisa cries and sobs in her room to the point that her husband calls her an Italian. Downstairs, no one really cares Sir William is dead because he wasn't exactly Father Christmas. Bertha, the fat kitchen maid asks Mrs. Croft about the girls who Sir William impregnated during the factory days. Mrs. Croft warns Bertha to not carry on the way she does or she will have to give up a baby for adoption. Bertha says she would never give up a baby in order to keep a job.
The next day, at breakfast, Morris Weisman asks for breakfast but Jennings tells him that the Englishman is never served breakfast. He must choose for himself, buffet style. The inspector asks alot of questions of alot of the upstairs guests. He is also incompetent in that he doesn't care about key evidence, like the coffee cup, and he leaves his fingerprints all over the evidence. The inspector wishes to speak with Sir William's valet, Probert. Jennings goes downstairs to fetch Probert, and Dorothy the maid tells Jennings he will lie for him or even kill for him. He makes Probert, the valet cry, and when Probert lifts up sir William, the competent deputy inspector notices there is no blood coming from the stab wound. They figure out Sir William was first poisoned, then stabbed. He questions the Countess about her financial dependence on Sir William, but Mary lies for her. The inspector also questions the commander's valet about the commander's investment scheme. The commander ends up in the kitchen eating jam. Henry Denton confesses that he isn't really Scottish or a valet. He is an American actor who will be playing a butler in Weisman's next film and was researching the role. George, the footman, gets revenge on Mr. Denton by pouring hot coffee into his lap. That night George, the footman, interrupts Bertha, the fat kitchen maid, and Mr. Blount having sex. It was Mr. Blount that Mary saw, not Sir William. That night Elsie tells Mary how she didn't love Sir William but didn't mind him. She also tells Mary what Sir William used to tell her, to seize the day. Mary jumps up runs to Robert Parks room. She tells him he couldn't have killed William because he would have to hate him in order to kill him. Parks says, cannot a man hate his own father? Parks says he broke into the orphanage files and found out his mother was one of Sir William's factory workers, but died in childbirth. Sir William was the man that dropped him off at the orphanage. Mary tells him that he didn't kill william because he was probably already dead from the poison when Parks stabbed him. Parks says he doesn't care. He grabs Mary and they kiss intensely. Mary runs back to her room and goes to sleep.
The next day everyone is allowed to leave because the inspector has their addresses anyway. While Mary is dressing Countess Trentham, Lady Sylvia and the Countess talk about why Mrs. Croft and Mrs. Wilson are such bitter enemies. Mrs. Croft used to be a cook in one of William's factories, and Mrs. Wilson was a lowly factory worker. Now that Mrs. Wilson is the head housekeeper, Mrs. Croft is jealous. The Countess asks if the is a Mr. Wilson. Lady Sylvia believes Mrs. Wilson must have been married because she used to be called Mrs. Parks. Mary has a realization and runs to confront Mrs. Wilson.
Mary asks how Mrs. Wilson knew Robert Parks was her son. She says she saw the picture of herself on his night stand. She had been William's factory worker and had to give up the baby in order to keep the job. William dumped many of his own illegitimate children into orphanages. She poisoned Sir William because she anticipated Robert to kill his father. Thus she has now made him untouchable. He can never be punished for the crime. Mary asks her about herself. Mrs. Wilson says she is the perfect servant and has no life of her own. Mary asks Mrs. Wilson if she will tell Robert Parks she is his mother. Mrs. Wilson says, "what good will it do?" After Mary leaves, Mrs. Croft who is actually Mrs. Wilson's sister consoles her, and tells her at least her son is alive, while Mrs. Croft's quit her job but her son died of scarlet fever anyway.
Everyone leaves. Elsie steals the dog and gets a ride with Morris to London. Lady Sylvia rides her horse and invites Constance back for the funeral. Mr. Blount tells Rupert not to marry Isobel because she will not inherit Sir William's money until Lady Sylvia dies. The Countess tells her she dreads having to testify at a murder trial. Mary agrees with her and says it could do no good anyway.
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