Playing at London Film Festival 2017 as a Special Presentation.
Accomplished English director, Sally Potter, has never taken an easy route to screen. Her previous works have seldom garnered big names nor mass appeal, but have been defiantly made on her own terms and patiently realised. So, it’s a curiosity to see her latest film, The Party, chock-full of familiar faces and varnished with an unprecedented accessibility.
Newly-appointed shadow minister, Janet (Kristen Scott-Thomas), is whom the titular party is being helmed in honour of. Her good news is cause for a celebratory vol-au-vent or two, and an early evening soirée involving her close, bourgeois friends in their middle-class domicile. Her gravel-voiced husband, Bill (Timothy Spall on fine form) indulges in too much Beaujolais and, aside from his love of eclectic vinyl records, is numb to the world. Shake up some home truths, relationship subterfuge, a firearm, and The Party promises to go off with a reverberating bang!
Potter’s small (but mightily capable) cast playfully toy with one another in this dark comedy of decorum, deception and circumstance. Scott-Thomas’ neurosis, as a host losing control, bubbles as blunt close friend, April (Patricia Clarkson) verbally spars with her hippy partner (Bruno Ganz), robbing much of the acerbic wit. A fidgety Cillian Murphy, as a ‘wanker-banker’ type, stokes the dramatic fires with a McGuffin and closeted motivation, frenetically mainlining cocaine and constantly at ill-ease throughout.
There are overt references to the place of men in society
The Party is ultimately concerned with first-world problems; keeping up appearances, shuffling idioms and personalities to retain status, all the while with a chaotic portent revealed in the opening frames. It debates the metaphysical, superstition, the poor health of the NHS; seldom landing on a firm conclusion.
There are overt references to the place of men in society, and lest we forget this celebration is for a woman who has reached an apex of power, side-lining or removing their masculinity. The phrase ‘behind every man is a great woman’ sprung to mind, and Potter subverts this, ensuring the characters name-check famous subservient men; Prince Phillip and Dennis Thatcher, to ensure we get the message.
At a curt 71 minutes, it needn’t be any longer to tell its story, and one must applaud Potter for her succinctness. The Party is far from thin gruel, but as a single location farce, it does very little to shed the accompanying stage-like aspirations. Polanski’s Carnage (2011) suffered similarly, but was excusable as that had been adapted from a stage play. You can veil the entirety of a film in a beautiful black and white filter, but Potter can’t eradicate the stagey feel, even down to a few of its players- and it’s problematic that it can’t elevate beyond this, despite having all the constituent elements to do so. As farcical comedies go, it is temporarily fun and raises some cause for thought in its exploratory conversations, but as with any good party, it's only remarkable if you can remember it the next day.