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Gosford Park – Paramount Network

Jeremy Northam plays piano while Bob Balaban and Kristin Scott Thomas listen
(Image credit: Contract Number (Programme))

A delightfully wry 1930s-set country house mystery. 4/5 stars

A varied collection of guests converge on a 1932 English country house. Jeremy Northam's super-smooth performance as Ivor Novello (he even does his own singing!) is the icing on the cake of this wonderfully wry look at a bygone age of servants, snobbery and social divisions.

Partly a send-up of the Agatha Christie-style of whodunit, director Robert (M*A*S*H, The Player) Altman is really far more interested in the preening vanity of his uppercrust characters – and of the grinding routine of the many servants who have to cater to their every whim.

Helen Mirren, Alan Bates, Clive Owen and Ryan Phillippe are just some of the stars in the kitchen. Meanwhile, those living the conceited good life upstairs include: Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Michael Gambon and, as a visiting Hollywood writer, Bob Balaban.

Playfully lighthearted, but with plenty of sharp edges where it counts, this is Altman at his brilliant best – while Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes picked up an Oscar for his script here.

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.