Sir William McCordle is a wealthy but uncouth industrialist-turned-aristocrat, with a large house in the English countryside, complete with staff. It is a world where everything runs in order - both upstairs, where Sir William and his much younger wife Lady Sylvia indulge in a very comfortable existence of shooting, dinners and parties, and downstairs, where the servants work endlessly under the command of the butler Mr. Jennings, and the house keeper Mrs. Wilson. Whether they like it or not, everyone knows their place. But a shooting party will change all of that, with friends of the McCordles and their servants arriving from outside to upset the order. And so begins a complicated tale of secrets, lies, deceit, betrayal, revenge, bitterness, hatred, money and love - and that's all before the murder...
The country house of Sir William McCordle, Michael Gambon and his wife Lady Sylvia, Kristen Scott Thomas in early 1930`s England is host to a weekend shooting party. The guests include relatives - her sisters and their husbands and her Aunt, the impoverished Countess of Trentham, Maggie Smith, all of whom need money from the boorish Sir William. Apparently the gels drew cards to see who would have to marry him and Sylvia lost. There`s also the matinee idol Ivor Novello, Jeremy Northam and his friend the American producer Morris Weissman, Bob Balaban and the latter`s valet, Ryan Phillippe.
But it`s from below-stairs that we get most of our information about what`s going on, where the housekeeper, Helen Mirren presides, in great rivalry with the cook, Eileen Atkins, and where head housemaid, Emily Watkins flirts with visiting valet, Clive Owen and tries to educate Lady Trentham`s innocent maid Mary, Kelly McDonald about the way of the world.
It`s Agatha Christie, there`s a murder, combined with Upstairs Downstairs the soap opera reigns in both areas. It`s melodrama, social critique if you want to draw a long bow, scandal and gossip. It`s totally totally delicious. Inspired by co-producer and eventual performer Bob Balaban Altman has worked with a wonderful screenplay by first time screenwriter Julian Fellowes to perhaps give up his famous long takes but none of his sweeping complexity to create a fabulous entertainment and insight into life for the privileged 70 years ago in England.