Gosford Park


The Rive Gauche cinema in Perpignan was full for Gosford Park, the French crowd laughing at Maggie Smith's delivery of lines even as they read them in subtitles.

It's a curious film, dense with dialogue and characters. A murder is committed but no-one gives two hoots about it. The main drama comes through gradual divulgence of the various characters' secrets. Both upstairs' and downstairs' characters keep up a social veneer while something simmerins underneath.

The film's a triumph of British acting, with its nuances of facial gesture and vocal inflexion. Sometimes I wilt before such character acting. Actors are supposed to aspire to roles such as Hamlet, but maybe they should take the entire profession of British actors, cast them in a remake of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and be done with it. So many performances have that pitch of constrained madness about them, as though characters are in an asylum and straining to get out.

It's curious to watch English TV programmes after years in the States, even ones as garlanded as Morse. What are supposed to be thrillers unfurl at an awesomely leisurely pace. Cameras linger on an actor's face as we watch some passion ripple deep within. Give us a break, get on with it! Let's have a new screenwriter's manifesto in Britain. Write some real drama for characters to react to, instead of requiring actors to dredge it all up from within. Stop writing screenplays composed of subtext and cut to the chase instead, write a tight plot with brisk action. Write for the high-end dross of Hollywood actors, the likes of Cruise / Travolta / Gibson, then do a magical turn-around and cast British actors in those parts. Then we can trust the actors to act instead of coast, and we can enjoy them in films in which someting actually happens.

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