UK Release Date: 13th October 2017
Runtime: 71 minutes
Director: Sally Potter
Writer: Sally Potter
Starring: Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Patricia Clarkson, Cillian Murphy, Bruno Ganz, Emily Mortimer, Cherry Jones
Synopsis: Gathering to celebrate a political promotion, a group of friends find a pleasant dinner party soon descends into chaos and betrayal when secrets begin to tumble out as the wine flows.
There’s always something suspicious about a film that feels as if it would be more at home on the stage. The onus quickly moves to the director to justify the decision to bring their work to the big screen. In the case of satirical monochrome chamber piece The Party, writer-director Sally Potter has constructed a film that feels inherently cinematic despite its enclosed location. This is a canvas that is simultaneously tiny and impossibly vast, with the dirty secrets of British intelligentsia left with nowhere to hide when the champagne corks have popped and the small talk comes to an end. In our current climate, it’s a frankly irresistible metaphor.
The film begins with newly appointed shadow health minister Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) preparing for a dinner party, while her husband (Timothy Spall) sits alone listening to his record collection at deafening volume. Janet is continuously fielding calls of congratulations, but is also exchanging flirty messages with a secret flame. It’s the beginning of a tapestry of secrets that only becomes more tightly woven when the guests arrive, including a coke-snorting banker (Cillian Murphy) with a concealed firearm.
Potter’s film is a deeply bizarre construction, which unfolds over a brisk 70-odd minutes with a steady stream of revelations to keep the story moving. Her camera moves with fluid momentum around the home, ensuring the characters can never escape either its prying eyes or the eyes of their increasingly suspicious fellow guests. The script juggles multiple storylines with ease before bringing the cast back together for a finale in which their secrets intertwine, leading to a final shot that provides a neat twist in the tail.
The Party is a triumph of acting talent, from Spall’s deliberately over-cranked hangdog expressions to the icy, politically-charged interjections of Patricia Clarkson‘s unrelenting cynic, who proves to be very much the film’s secret weapon. Meanwhile, Murphy’s drug-addled panic is an impressive spectacle and Kristin Scott Thomas holds it all together as the morally ambiguous and permanently frazzled host trying to maintain control.
Despite its billing as a satirical comedy, The Party doesn’t quite make the most of its political elements and feels more like a critique of the front put on by the affluent middle classes, who are hiding all manner of issues beneath their elegant facade. It’s Potter’s direction that elevates the piece, with bonkers Dutch angles bringing out the true cinematic potential of the single location. By the time the credits roll, Potter has dismantled the hoity-toity of the Establishment with something even drier than the wine the party guests consume en masse.
Pop or Poop?
It might not quite live up to its satirical billing, but The Party is an oddball treat that is brief enough not to outstay its welcome. Sally Potter’s cinematic invention and a cast firing on all cylinders makes for a compelling and involving chamber piece, with a nimble script that always has a handful of one-liners and a fistful of explosive secrets hiding up its elegantly tailored sleeves.
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