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  • Warning: Spoilers
    "The Shooting Party" (1985) opens and closes with procession carrying a litter across an open field and receding into the distance. It is late afternoon. The wistful score underlines the autumnal sense of melancholic desolation.. It is a marvelous establishing shot setting the tone of the film while serving as a metaphor for the passing of the British Empire. "The Shooting Party" beautiful re-creates the elegiac autumn of 1913; the last Britain enjoyed before the Great War wiped out a generation of English youth, and shattered forever the confident complacency of the Edwardian world. The fabric of this society is examined through the inter-related actions of a group of aristocrats invited to spend the weekend at the estate of Sir Randolph and Lady Nettleby, along with the various servants who attend them, as well as many of the locals who live on the estate. The weekend activities include riding, discussions on art and politics, masquerades, cards, walks and picnics as well as the sport of shooting game. Also to be enjoyed will be illicit trysts, acceptable only because they remain unspoken and discreet. Lady Aline Hartlip, (Cheryl Campbell) addicted to speculation/gambling has just such a dalliance with Sir Ruben Hergersheimer, (Aharon Ipale) "the Israelite" as he is called. He pays for her gambling debts in exchange for sexual favors. It is an arrangement she is only too happy to oblige, given her loveless marriage to Lord Gilbert. It is this obsession with maintaining appearances at all costs that is one of the main preoccupations of the privileged class.

    While on the surface all seems well, there are tensions and stresses at work both at home and abroad threatening the stability of the established order. And they affect each of the classes. The aristocrats are determined to maintain the appearance of stability despite the looming threat of war and the fading of the old social order, while the serving class ape their masters with the hope of acquiring gentility. Lionel Stephens's manservant actually takes one of his master's discarded love letters from the waste basket in an attempt to use it's refined language to woo the maid he is in love with, while the locals hired to act as beaters for the shoot, grumble-quietly-about unfair conditions. All sense that change is coming, but still cling to the illusion that the Empire will endure, because however staid, restrictive and even provincial, it provides a sense of security and permanence. Because the aristocracy no longer fulfills its intended function as rulers, what else can it do except indulge its pleasures too seriously. This observes Sir Randolph, played by James Mason in a final film performance of immense wisdom and dignity, is a sure sign of a civilization in decline. This "playing the game" too seriously generates the unspoken rivalry between Lord Gilbert Hartlip, ( a wonderfully haughty Edward Fox) who feels his preeminence as the best shot in England being threatened by Lionel Stephens, a rising young barrister, sensitively played by Rupert Frazer. Stephens only takes up the challenge to impress his lady fair, Lady Olivia Lilburn, (Judi Bowker) with whom he is in love but who is married to his friend Lord Lilburn. Lilburn, (Robert Hardy) concerned with maintaining standards, deeply loves Olivia, but has no illusions about life being able to imitate art as his wife does. This contest of "knights" will ultimately have tragic consequences. And this is one of the points of the film; even the noblest ideals when divorced from reality must end in failure or worse, catastrophe. As the Great War proved with terrible finality the concept of "Nobless Oblige" in the modern age can be seen as not only foolish, but fatal. And yet paradoxically it is this very striving for the unattainable, the very real desire to make those ideals real, that ennobles the lives of both of the young would be lovers.

    In war the innocent suffer the most. In a desperate attempt to add another shot to his belt, because it is clear he is losing the contest-his wife even suggests he should cheat-Lord Gilbert accidentally wounds one of the beaters, Tom Harker, played by the wonderful Gordon Jackson in one of his best film roles. Harker is an individualist. He is also a poacher, and a supporter of Lloyd George, and much liked by the Nettlebys-especially Sir Randolph, who sees in him the embodiment of the simple life-something for which he yearns. His loss is felt personally but it is also metaphorical because it is symbolic of the terrible losses Britain will sustain in the coming war. In fact, Harker's final words are, "God save the British Empire!" and the field they carry his body across recalls those fields in Flanders and Passchendaele in which many Englishmen will cross and never return, while the large scale slaughter of the fowl at the hands of the party armed with shotguns brings to mind the horrors of the Western Front in which tens of thousands of youths will be paraded in front of machine guns and artillery only to be mowed down like so much wheat. Outrage at the blood sport is expressed by animal rights activist and pamphleteer Cornelius Cardew played with delightful eccentricity by John Gielgud. His scene with Mason, whom he is brought before for his attempt to place himself between the hunters and the hunted, is the best scene in the film and certainly the most memorable. There is a genuine warmth between these two acting greats, performing together again for the first time since their collaboration in "Julius Ceasar" thirty-one years earlier. Actually, the entire cast should take a bow for it is an impressive ensemble work. "The Shooting Party" gives us a glimpse into the mindset of an era that has long since vanished and exists now only in the mind's eye.
  • If you like Merchant/Ivory films, then you will also enjoy this one. It moves slowly but surely as we witness the sun setting on the aristocracy and on the British Empire, set in the microcosm of an English country estate. These people are doomed, in various ways, but, more than that, a way of life that flourished for centuries is about to be extinguished by the slaughter of WWI. James Mason is the lord of the manor and plays the part as if he were born to it. This was his last film and it makes you realize how much he is missed. Edward Fox has a field day playing the weak, tradition bound guest who can't abide being bested and Cheryl Campbell is terrific as his wayward wife. There are many good supporting roles but Gordon Jackson, as one of the "beaters" is a stand-out; his final scenes are brilliantly done. Sir John Gielgud walks through as a protester against the hunt and sparkles in that small role. It is sometimes difficult to figure out who is related to whom since there are a lot of characters, all of whom have some interrelationship. This is a beautiful film, rich in scenary and it captures a time and life that died in the trenches of the Great War. Highly recommended.
  • sirdar12 November 1998
    This film is set on a great English estate during the last days before the outbreak of World War I. A superb cast including James Mason (in his last role), Robert Hardy, Edward Fox and Gordon Jackson combine their talents to produce a wonderful, if gloomy, peek at the comfortable world of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII that was about to come tumbling down. The plot foreshadows the social and moral upheavals that will be faced but does so with a grace and subtlety that makes this a film worth seeing.
  • The Shooting Party is set in 1913, which is not very long ago, and yet is another world. This was the last year of the old world, and the start of the modern world. The opening narration by James Mason sets the theme: that the world of the haves and have-nots is doomed, and that the future holds great change.

    This was Mason's last film, and his was a part very well suited to him. He is the great patriarch, head of the family, and benign chief of the great estate. He is not a soppy fool, but he is kind and means well to all. He invites many aristocrats to his estate for a few days of shooting, and these arrive, with their servants.

    In the house, then, are representatives of much of the world at that time: the upper classes, some British, some foreign, and the lower classes, some servants, some local rustics who will be the beaters for the shoot. The film then shows us how they are all behaving.

    Both the upper and the lower classes are stuck in their ways, though if anything, it is the upper class which questions whether this is the way things should be. When the shooting pauses for tea, the posh folk sit elegantly but uncomfortably in a clean white marquee, and drink from china, while the beaters look far happier drinking from mugs from a communal urn and chatting amongst themselves.

    The foreign aristocrats are haughty, and annoy the British by referring to the beaters as "peasants". The British aristocrats are not happy. Two young idealists are in the agony of a forbidden love, others have sham marriages or petty rivalries.

    The world is one full of love, but much of it frustrated. A boy has a pet duck, which he fears will be shot. Mason has a liking for a local poacher whom he hires as a beater, despite the contempt which the hunt master has for the man. By the end of the film, you feel great liking and sympathy for many of the characters.

    To get the most from this film, some knowledge of history and British culture is required, but there is much to like in this film without these. The acting and dialogue are good, the setting atmospheric, and what is being said about the people of the time is so very fair. This film does not hammer home any of its points, but shows both the good and the bad in the characters, and lets the viewer decide.

    All through the film, our present-day knowledge of the slaughter to come in the churned mud of the Somme, Ypres, Paschendale and the Dardenelles stays with us, affecting the way we perceive every nuance. The film makers were clearly aware of this, and take full advantage of it.

    The ending is one of the most moving I know from any film. Simple, yet very effective.
  • Somewhere there should be a private museum dedicated to memorializing one of the most important vanished species-- the lady.

    While it is easy to see the fine acting of Gielgud, Mason, Fox and the other men, what no one has yet commented on is the equally fine work of a too-seldom seen actress... Judi Bowker.

    As Lady Olivia, she shows the compassion, consideration, perfect balance, and dedication of an Edwardian lady at her finest. She is not only a luminous beauty, but she is moved by a gallant and delightfully indirect invitation to adultery by Lionel, but does not succumb for her own reasons. She notices what happens to the children, she treats every other person in the film as an individual, and her unselfishness in no way detracts from her presence. Miss Bowker's subtle performance is well worth a careful look.

    THE SHOOTING PARTY is clearly an envoi to a vanished era. But in an age that can't see the difference between Melanie Wilkes and Scarlett O'Hara that was Margaret Mitchell's key contrast and thinks SEX AND THE CITY is a model for feminine conduct, Judi Bowker's performance is a revelation,
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I loved this movie. I loved the country house, countryside, actors/actresses, English accents and the various things it gave me to think about. But the most impressive thing about it, to me, was James Mason's performance, which was perfect. I liked the character he played. This country gentleman was so reasonable and level-headed. Near the end, he is comforting one of his employees, who has just been shot, and he recites the Lord's Prayer to comfort the man. The delivery is beautiful, it is so well-done.
  • batonman12 December 2002
    While the whole film is beautifully accomplished on all levels, acting, directing, sense of time and place, the scene between James Mason and John Gielgud, which takes place during a shoot, reveals acting that has gone beyond acting. It is one of the most exquisite scenes in the history of the cinema. Mason and Gielgud are perfect.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In the autumn of 1913, a group of guests assemble at Nettleby Hall, the country seat of Sir Randolph Nettleby, for a shooting party. (References to Dorking and Hindhead suggest the film is set in Surrey). Shooting was an upper-class obsession in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; the "Summer Season" of social gatherings always ended in early August to allow the aristocracy to travel to the Scottish moors for the start of the grouse season on the "Glorious Twelfth". Once that was over, they returned to their English estates in October for pheasant shooting. Winter was the season for wildfowling on the marshes.

    A more recent British film, "Gosford Park", also featured a shooting party at a stately home. In that film, the owner of the house, the parvenu businessman Sir William McCordle, is both deeply unpleasant and deeply unpopular; when he is murdered halfway through there is no shortage of suspects as he was hated by many of his family, his guests and his domestic staff. Sir Randolph, by contrast, is a gentleman of the old school, intelligent, thoughtful and decent, popular with both his fellow-aristocrats and with his servants and tenants. Although his position obliges him to host gatherings such as this one, he has mixed feelings about them. He feels that the upper classes take their pleasures too seriously, something he regards as a sign of a civilisation in decline. When the shoot is interrupted by Cardew, an elderly and eccentric animal lover, Randolph does not have him charged with trespass or manhandled off the estate by his servants (as many landowners would have done) but instead calmly debates with him.

    Among Sir Randolph's guests are another aristocrat, Lord Gilbert Hartlip, and Lionel Stephens, a young lawyer. Both are excellent shots and there is intense rivalry between them as they compete to see who can kill most birds. We also learn something of their private lives. Lord Gilbert is trapped in an unhappy marriage, and both he and his wife have taken lovers. She is a compulsive gambler; among the other guests is one of her lovers, the wealthy businessman Sir Reuben Hergesheimer, who has agreed to pay off her debts in exchange for sexual favours. Stephens is in love with Olivia, the beautiful young wife of the much older Lord Lilburn. Although she returns his love, the affair seems doomed, as the social conventions of the day frowned upon divorce. There is a tragic conclusion to the rivalry between Hartlip and Stephens; desperate to prove himself the better shot, Hartlip continues to fire recklessly after the order to stop has been given, and one of the beaters is hit.

    The film features a selection of some of Britain's best-known actors, including James Mason, John Gielgud, Edward Fox and Gordon Jackson. This was Mason's last role before his death, and one of his best. Towards the end of his career he played a number of world-weary aristocrats, reluctantly facing the decline of their once-secure world, such as Franz Josef in "Mayerling" and Klugemann in "The Blue Max", and Sir Randolph is another. There are too many good performances to mention them all, but I must single out Cheryl Campbell as Lady Hartlip, Fox as her husband and Judi Bowker as Olivia.

    The date of the film is, of course, significant. 1913 was to be the last shooting season before the ruling classes of Europe decided that killing humans took precedence over killing birds. Autumn is traditionally the season for pheasant shooting, but in this film there is an obvious symbolic significance to the time of year. The prevailing colours are dull ones- browns, greys, muted greens and yellows with few bright tones. This is an autumn of mists and overcast skies, not an autumn of brilliant colours like the one in "Far from Heaven". Autumn becomes a symbol of a society in decline. The slaughter of the birds is a symbol of the much greater slaughter which was to start the following year. This sense of decline and decadence pervades the film; even a sensitive and kindly man like Sir Randolph, who foresees the coming war with Germany, believes that war might be a good thing, a chance to rebuild a new society on the ruins of the old. Today, of course, we know that the war was to prove far bloodier than anyone had foreseen and that the new world which arose after it was in most respects worse than the old one, so talk like that sounds to our ears like dangerous nonsense. In 1913, however, it must have seemed dangerously seductive.

    The year is significant for another reason. 1913 was not only the year before the outbreak of World War One, it was also two years after the passing of the Parliament Act 1911 which had restricted the power of Britain's House of Lords to block Government legislation. The aristocracy retained their wealth and privilege, but their political power was starting to wane following the introduction of universal male suffrage and the growth of more populist politics. The film makes mention of David Lloyd George, the radical Chancellor of the Exchequer and a popular figure among the working classes for his opposition to aristocratic privilege. There was to be no Russian-style revolution in Britain, so the war did not see the end of the country house lifestyle; it continued throughout the twenties and thirties ("Gosford Park" is set in 1932) and, to some extent, still persists today. Nevertheless, the aristocracy have never again held the central role in society which was theirs before the twentieth century.

    The eighties were perhaps the decade most associated with the "heritage cinema" movement in Britain. Although it is visually much more restrained than, say, the work of Merchant Ivory, Alan Bridges' film is an excellent example of this tradition, a haunting and elegiac commentary on the inevitable processes of social change. 8/10
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I saw this movie in the mid-eighties on HBO one afternoon and never forgot it. I have not seen it again, but ever since then have repeatedly asked who might remember it. Very few do, which is a shame. My personal, perhaps self-centered measure of a movie is how well I might remember it. This movie is among the most memorable. I can still see the opening scene in my mind's eye, and vividly remember many other parts of it.

    There is a later scene that I recall in particular where Mason prays with one of his lower servants after the man is shot accidentally, and I recall how it moved me to hear Mason's distinctive voice working through the words of the prayer.

    I ordered the DVD today, and am very much looking forward to seeing the movie again. This was Mason's last film, and prophetically the theme of the movie is to chronical the end to the Victorian/aristocratic era on the English countryside. Accordingly, the movie is a very fitting tribute to the man, and certainly an enjoyable example of this style of film. If you loved Gosford Park, this is the earlier master.
  • I purchased this film just by chance as it seemed interesting. I had to view this title twice to get the picture so to speak. I have never heard of this production before so did not know what to expect. After viewing with a decent bottle of wine, I found the film thoroughly enjoyable with the all star cast. I was sorry to learn that this film was James Mason's last. A good performance by all the cast especially by the stunningly beautiful Judi Bowker (Olivia) who I can just remember as a sickly teenager in the TV series Black Beauty. So, was the DVD worth buying?? Answer is yes. I will even visit the location which is Knebworth house which was unknown to me.
  • If you remember Upstairs/Downstairs on PBS about the two different worlds in one house in London before the Titantic sailed and barbed wire and mass slaughter decorated the landscape of Europe,then this is a perfect accomplishment. Gordon Jackson who played the butler in the series is cast here as a poacher who gets hired to become a beater, someone who rouses the targeted wildlife in this case grouse I believe into the gunsights of the "swells". The English have a love- hate relationship with that time of determined inequality; James Mason in his last role, plays the lord of the manor,an intelligent patriarch of his ancestral holdings,several steps above the stereotype of a haughty inbred weasel satirized memorably by the Monty Python crew in their "Upperclass Twit of the Year" sketch. Mason is an aristocrat with a capital A who feels it is his DUTY to be the best not an entitlement. The others in this film range from starcrossed lovers he doomed to be a casualty of 20th Century warfare,the others representing snobs,fools, frivolous yet empty souled individuals who actually believed a little bloodletting would revitalize their spirits during the hunt and the subsequent war. While they may resent the foreigners for calling the ir English lackeys peasants it is how they treat them. Except for James Mason they are his yeomen the family's men at arms who probably followed his ancestors into battle when they raised a regiment of horse or foot for whatever struggle be it against the rival Europeans,killing rebel Scots or Irish ,or tangling with those American Cousins. Watch this film and see the difference between being a star and being an actor
  • A truly memorable and dramatic performance by James Mason as he hosts a shooting party on his estate before the eve of WW1. A slow paced story with excellent dialogue and stunning cinematography. A must have for my permanent collection.
  • Frankly, much of this movie is all but indecipherable to the American ear, with much muttering done in what we deign to call a heavy English accent. However, if you keep your fingers over the remote volume control and the rewind button, you can stay with the story. Whether you do or not is up to you, but DON'T leave before you enjoy one of the greatest scenes in all moviedom.

    There comes a time during the shooting when John Gielgud, as an anti-hunting pamphleteer, marches boldly into the line of fire and disrupts the hunt. James Mason, as the Lord of the manor, takes him aside. The conversation they have is delightful, amazing, perfectly written, perfectly acted. It is a joy. (Mason, "Ahhh, special terms.") It is the only portion of this film I have on tape!

    If you enjoy movies for the magic moments they contain, as Yogi Berra once said, "Don't miss it if you can."
  • Banal carnage. A nice allegory, just as a game keeper raises birds for sport so a social order, a decaying aristocracy, breeds masses for war. Trouble is these particular aristocrats ARE actually as boring as they are bored, and waiting around the whole film for the last minute is slightly tedious. A nap before tea is recommended. The atmosphere is perfect. Gielgud is great as an eccentric caricature -- when will a vegetarian be portrayed as anything but a looney in a movie? Mason is perfect as the button-down aristo so shocked that his shooting party should result in human death, so close to death himself. Is the movie too weighty from all the irony? I liked it, 7 out of ten.
  • I cannot believe how badly the point of this film must have been missed! I am no snob, but people can't have understood the core ideas behind the film as otherwise it would be regarded as a classic.

    I thought the film was very sad and a great reflection on a English time and traditions passing. The time of drinking fine wines and eating fresh game will be shortly over with the pending war.

    James Mason is just perfect in this film! He represents the "good old boy" with principles and values that the younger more competitive Edward Fox misses. This partnership is a beautiful juxtaposition, both understated and acted masterfully.

    ANyway, slight rant over but please watch again if you were not sure one way or the other

    gareth
  • Warning: Spoilers
    As a minimum, worth seeing for the superb moment when Nettleby (Mason) and Cardew (Gielgud) discuss the printing of pamphlets.

    Gielgud's role as the protester, and the various reactions to him, including from the customers in the local hostelry, are perfectly scripted and acted - and strangely moving. It is one of the film's multiple narrative threads.

    There are no points for seeing that the shooting party prefigures the global conflict to come. Nor is it really the case that the setting of the film is in some transitional world between a vanishing bucolic idyll and our modern age. The relationship between violence and civil behaviour that the film explores were as well known to the Victorians as to us. The Great War revealed nothing new about man's inhumanity. The only extra element, which the film darkly hints at, is the scale and consequences of the violence which modernity is capable of inflicting.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    One of the extras with the DVD is a short film on the making of The Shooting Party which begins by reminding those intrepid buffs who keep abreast of such things and informing those who don't that Paul Schofield was originally signed to play the lead and would have done so were it not for an accident early in the filming. In other words James Mason may very well not have ended a distinguished career with a film as fine as this which would have been a great pity. Mason leads a fine cast in what amounts to an elegy for a lost age and if metaphors abound they do so stylishly and gracefully in muted tones as befits the time and the place, Autumn, 1913, indeed so subdued and low-key is the lighting that one could be forgiven for thinking that the lamps have already gone out all over Europe. Apparently Mason was given a private screening of the finished film at the Curzon and approved of it as well he might. Though not perhaps everyone's cup of tea this remains an exceptional piece of filmmaking.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    It's difficult not to see the past through the spectacles of the present, and this is more obvious 20 years after this film was made. The beautiful Lady Olivia has the opinions of an educated, liberal woman of 1985 - she likes the socialist Ruskin! How flattering to ourselves as we identify with her. How smug we feel as we tut tut over the class ridden society of pre WWI England! Sorry, folks, English society is still just as class ridden, and rich people still have servants - they just don't dress them in white caps and aprons or call them parlourmaids. Am I alone in finding Lady Olivia and her admirer unspeakably wet? And surely nobody said "nothing in common", "keep in touch" or "competitive" in 1913? (They certainly did in 1985.) In the Shooting Party, tragedy occurs because the soppy Ruskin-reader and Edward Fox try to outdo each other. This is not only ungentlemanly, it is competitive. In the 80s competitiveness was evil. We had to believe that we are all the same, and different skills and talents are due to environment, education, empowerment and access. So if anyone excels it is due to competitiveness. People went right on being competitive, though, especially when it came to trading Marxist pieties. Despite those reservations, though, this is an excellent film with some great acting, costumes and atmosphere. PS The real Cornelius Cardew was a communist British composer.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    English author Isabel Colgate wrote a 1980 novel by this same title that paints a picture of a segment of British society after the turn of the 20th century and before World War I. Critics and reviewers of the day talked and wrote about the conflicts "The Shooting Party" covered. The "sport" of overindulgent killing of game birds, versus the rights of animals. The self-absorption among the idle wealthy and the disdain for the lower classes. How many in the aristocracy considered their class above reproach for dalliances, adultery and such.

    "The Shooting Party" shows life amid some of the class of lords, ladies and idle rich in 1913. Their lives indeed seem to have so little meaning. They seemed to live for mere pleasure or self-indulgence, in which they find so little pleasure.

    The genius in the making of this film is in the tedium the audience soon begins to feel by this lifestyle. The women and men gossip idly, the parties ride and trek to the fields to take up shooting positions with canes to sit on. The servants reload and hand shotguns to the wealthy. Two of the men compete for kills, and the pheasants fly and die by the droves. And, the lower classes beat the bushes to scare up the game and wait on the wealthy.

    The wealthy eat, imbibe and gossip at all times. Some carry on adulterous affairs at night. And they get up in the morning to do it all over again. A fine cast conveys the emptiness of such life. James Mason is Sir Randolph Nettleby, who appears to have no taste for these social affairs. So, when John Gielgud's Cornelius Cardew arrives as a protester for animal's rights, Sir Nettleby finds something finally of interest.

    Edward Fox plays Lord Gilbert Hartlip, as only Fox can portray a total snob who is completely detached from those around him - except for a spark of competition with another shooter. Even after shooting one of Sir Nettleby's gamekeepers by careless action, he is more concerned about the delay the accident causes than the man he has shot. All he can say after looking on the wounded man, whom Sir Randolph tends to, is "Pity."

    The man shot is gamekeeper Tom Harker, played by Gordon Jackson. Cheryl Campbell plays the adulterer Lady Aline Hartlip, Lord Gilbert's wife. Dorothy Tutin plays Sir Randolph's wife, Lady Minnie Nettleby. Rupert Frazer plays Lionel Stephens, and Judi Bowker plays Lady Olivia Lilburn. The film has many more fine cast members who do very well.

    The shooting accident puts a pale on the affair. As the credits run at the end, the film has a list of males who were part of the story, and who were killed within a few years in World War I. This adds further to a sense of the foibles of the self-centered culture and lifestyle of the period.

    The listed casualties of the war, from characters in the film, were: Captain Lionel Stephens MC, killed in action in 1915 at Ypres; Oberstleutnant Count Tibor Rakassyi, KIA in 1916 at Stobykhva; Lieutenant Marcus Nettleby, KIA in 1916 at Delville Wood, The Somme; Lance-Sergeant Walter Weir, dies of wounds in 1915 at Gallipoli; and Private John Haskins, KIA in 1917 at Passchendaele.

    This isn't an entertaining film, but one that some may appreciate who enjoy history.
  • Prismark1015 September 2016
    The Shooting Party is an elegant, stately film with radical undertones very much represented by the John Gielgud's character.

    However this is James Mason's film, his final movie before his death and to think he was a last minute replacement for Paul Scofield who had got injured on set and had to pull out.

    Mason plays Sir Randolph who holds a weekend shooting party in his estate with fellow aristocrats from home and abroad. There are strict rules of conduct from the way you dress, the way you eat, the shoot itself and you conduct yourself in front of servants.

    What we see is petty rivalries, loveless marriages, discreet affairs and the foreign aristocrats showing an arrogance to the lower orders.

    The setting is Autumn 1913, they do not know it but it will be the last shooting season before the outbreak of The Great War. Sir Randolph senses that the country is changing but not yet realising at what great extent. Look at the sincere way he talks to Gielgud's pamphleteer who objects to the shooting and proclaiming animal rights. It is the servants and the lower classes who seemed to be more conservative and think things will always remain the same.

    The bird shooting scenes anticipates the slaughter that will follow in the trenches a year later, the tragedy that occurs signifies a change in the rule of the games and in the final credits we are informed that several of the characters died in The Great War.

    It is easy to dismiss The Shooting Party as another heritage film that was popular in the 1980s and 1990s. It has a bite to it as well as being uniformly well acted.
  • justincward10 February 2012
    Warning: Spoilers
    No spoilers, even if it had a plot, because I turned it off before the end.

    Two things in The Shooting Party work extremely well: and both are castings against type. John Gielgud, the ultimate actor-luvvie, as an early hunt saboteur, and Gordon Jackson as a lairy professional poacher, when he usually did cap-doffing yeoman or butlers. I will say he suffers a bit of accent drift. The casting of James Mason, in his last film, as an aristocrat of the old school doesn't work because James, god bless him, does a sort of bank CEO turn (see Anthony Hopkins in Meet Joe Black), which is not the same thing at all. But that doesn't matter because this is the National Trust version of Brideshead Revisited.

    For the rest of them, it's the usual suspects playing at toffs, and they have a lot of fun with old cars, guns and billiard tables. Edward Fox, who was to stuck-up black-tie wearing waxworks what Burt Kwouk was to Japanese POW camp commandants, does it on autopilot and it shows. A special mention however for two of the absolutely worst child actors I've seen in a long time. Producer's kids, probably. Sorry kids, I hope you found gainful employment in accountancy later on.

    It's good that they have plenty to do at this country house, because as far as the audience is concerned, there's NOTHING GOING ON. Some will say that the film lyrically shows the imminent collapse of the English aristocracy on the eve of World War I; I say this film will tell you more about the collapse of the English film industry under the weight of poorly scripted son-et-lumière nostalgia masquerading as historical drama - the sort of thing Stephen Poliakoff does on TV, or used to before budgets got really tight.

    This, of course, is the point of The Shooting Party - it was trying to show upstart TV that UK cinema could do costume drama so much better in the 1980's. Unfortunately it was wrong. The 1981 TV version of Brideshead Revisited will tell you all you need to know about the decline of the English ruling class, as well as being a rattling good yarn. The Shooting Party isn't so much a yarn as a bit of tinsel.
  • THE SHOOTING PARTY, based on the novel by Isabel Colegate, is one of those low-budget films that tends to be characterized as a "heritage film," offering incidental pleases to viewers who are prepared to make the effort, but perhaps not pitched at general audiences.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. Alan Bridges's work is both a technical and thematic masterpiece, brilliantly making use of cinema's resources to comment on British insularity both before and after World War One.

    The first few sequences pass by exceptionally quickly: few of the guests at Sir Randolph's (James Mason's) home have time to talk with one another, as they are perpetually occupied in dressing for dinner, eating food, and discussing the next day's hunting. We wonder why they seem so desperate, especially in view of their privileged lifestyle. The answer emerges gradually; they are pathologically incapable of expressing their true feelings. Lord Gilbert and Lady Aline (Edward Fox, Cheryl Campbell) are unhappily married yet stay together for the sake of form. Lord Bob (Robert Hardy) makes himself agreeable to everyone without saying anything of any value. They seem hell-bent on preserving what they perceive as the "old values" that made England great in the Victorian era without in the least understanding how worthless they have become.

    The "Hunting Party" of the title refers to a three-day shooting festival, where the aristocrats indulge in hunting just for the sake of it, loyally supported by Sir Randolph's band of servants. No questions its morality, save for lifelong pacifist Cornelius Cardew (John Gielgud). Director Bridges slows the action down quite significantly here, allowing viewers to acknowledge the regular - and uncomfortable - series of gunshots accompanied by tight pans of the birds falling dead. The parallels between such sequences and the forthcoming conflict in World War I are obvious; only in the future it will be human beings rather than birds who will perish.

    The action attains a human dimension when we discover that the little boy Osbert (Nicholas Pietrek) is desperate to save his pet duck from the carnage. As he wanders desperately about the dawn- misted landscape before the hunt is about to start, we realize just how destructive humanity can be as they disrupt the balance of nature for their selfish pleasures.

    Although Bridges does not exempt his characters from criticism, he manages to introduce a Chekhovian element into the film's latter stages. While no one can ever contemplate a future different from the past, the aristocrats are in a sense victims of circumstance, lacking both the power and self-awareness to change their lives. This element is emphasized in a highly poignant moment as Sir Randolph vainly tries to offer succor to one of his servants (Gordon Jackson), who has been accidentally shot, but finds himself emotionally incapable of doing so, and bursts into tears quietly.

    Released only three years after the Falklands Island invasion of 1982, widely celebrated at the time as a great victory for British pride, THE SHOOTING PARTY offers a chillingly downbeat interpretation of jingoist attitudes that prove more destructive than beneficial.
  • This is an extremely poor film. It is awfully self-conscious, with stilted dialogue that barely advances the plot and does even less in fleshing out the characters. The performances, for the most part, suffer from being restricted to stilted mannerism or speechifying and the whole thing lacks the sort of vigor needed to provide dramatic momentum. The photography is never more than functional, and at best the editing denies the film much needed energy, while at worst, it has all the subtlety of a sledge-hammer (note the scene in the dining room when one the characters says he thinks that a civilization is coming to an end and there is a cut to a log breaking in the fire). The score meanwhile, seems to have been lifted from a temp track and poorly mixed, and while the locations and costumes are absolutely authentic, you can only wonder what the likes of Merchant-Ivory would have done had they gotten their hands on it.

    But then, perhaps they would have passed. The whole story is so precious about itself and the passing of an age, it lacks the one crucial element that would have allowed the film to endure at least beyond its own age: a sense of humor. And I don't mean exclusively comedy. I mean a range of emotions: a SENSE of humor. The whole thing is so relentlessly and self-indulgently maudlin. It needed a lightness of touch, verbal wit, satire... in terms of cinema, what it needed to study was Renoir's masterpiece The Rules of the Game. That movie had everything: wit, motion, a sense of cinema, fully fleshed out and contradictory characters, each one of them flawed in their own unique but understandable way. What is more, Renoir made his film in 1939 as a contemporary commentary... and somehow, the comedic strain is one of the reason why that film is still considered a masterpiece.

    The Shooting Party is a film (based on a book) that appears to have taken at least part of Renoir's plot and then, although written in 1980, decides to push its time frame back to the eve of WW1. But even with that added view of history, it adds nothing to what Renoir achieved. On the bonus material for the DVD, we are told that it is a classic, one of the greatest British films ever made. Says who? The producer of the film? Claims are made that it broke all sorts of box-office records across the globe and was festooned with awards left, right and centre. It appears to me that the makers of that particular DVD documentary are almost as delusional and pompous as the characters in the film. At least when Julian Fellowes wrote Gosford Park, there was a self-awareness about the proceedings and so, the film has the confidence to send itself up at the same time. LIke all great Altman films, Gosford Park captures a moment when a culture shifted... and leaves you both regretful and grateful that the shift occurred. The Shooting Party leaves you wondering how on earth some people lavish it with such praise.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    'The Shooting Party' is certainly rare but gained a respectable following when it was released on video many years ago. It's an English film, comfortably paced on repeated viewings and yes, I can understand how it may be less than riveting for people who aren't attuned to its wavelength. It's beautiful to look at, the characters are graceful and civilised, and they talk about interesting and thought provoking things. I happen to like 'The Shooting Party'. It is what it is, and you can take it or leave it – I prefer to do the former.

    The story concerns the decline of the Edwardian class in England a year before the outbreak of WW1, as exemplified by a group of people gathered at a great mansion to partake of the 'shooting party' of the title. There is a lot of rumination on the part of the characters concerning the passing of time, and how their class, with all its privileges may not have much longer to last. They are being legislated out of existence by the Liberals, and pushed to one side by the rise of the labour movement. The death of the King Edward VII a traditionalist and ally, is also a harbinger of harder times ahead and all of these changes will make England a very different place to what it previously was.

    James Mason stars as the owner of the mansion and the head of the party. A particularly welcome member of the cast is John Gielgud who gives a wonderful performance as a servant who exhibits an intense aversion to animal hunting for sport and does everything he can to put a spanner in the works of the shooting party. Gielgud represents the naysayer of the declining era, indicating that the new democratic post-war middle class are more concerned with commerce, rights and liberty rather than ownership. It's a treat for the audience to discover the metaphors that exist in the revelation of plot and the characters which drive 'The Shooting Party' along to its conclusion. The film's execution is traditional, there is nothing new to in its technique to wonder about. The story itself is what will capture the audience's attention, that is if they find the subject interesting, despite the film's plot being admittedly, a little on the slim side.

    I am not normally a big fan of this genre of Merchant/Ivory type films and others like them that are for example, gorgeous to look at, but perhaps a tad boring. Films like this take a chance in not trying to be everything to everyone. They tackle a specific subject and stick to it, and it may not even be of particular interest to mainstream audiences. 'The Shooting Party' continues to find an audience by the quality of its writing, the performances and the execution, and discerning members of the public if they persevere, will discover the fruits of a quality endeavour.