The Party

Sally Potter
Release Year:
Length (mins):
Sally Potter, Walter Donohue (story editor)
Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall
Screening Date:
  • 12-Mar-2019
  • Categories:
    Comedy, Drama

    Kristin Scott Thomas stars as a British opposition politician throwing a party for friends at her London flat, but things do not go according to plan. Fine ensemble cast with a fast-paced script from the director of “Orlando”. 

    Film Notes

    The Party review – conniptions amid the canapés in an observant real-time farce

    4 stars out of 5..

    Kristin Scott Thomas stars as a shadow cabinet member hosting one of those dos at which shock revelation follows shock revelation, in Sally Potter’s short, smart comedy.

    Sally Potter’s 71-minute film The Party is a short, sharp, funny shock of a movie; a theatrical drawing-room comedy which plays out in real time with elegance and dispatch, cantering up to a cheeky punchline twist which leaves you laughing over the final credits. It’s written and directed by Potter, and the action is starkly lit and shot in black and white by Russian cinematographer Aleksei Rodionov.

    Unassuming and old-fashioned funny entertainment isn’t exactly what we associate with this film-maker, but that’s what she has very satisfyingly served up here. It’s not especially resonant or profound but it is observant and smart, with some big laughs in the dialogue. The whole thing is enjoyably absurd though not precisely absurdist.

    The Party is like a kind of one-act play by Simon Gray or Anthony Schaffer, which might be produced on stage as the second half of a double-bill – with an early piece by Stoppard before the interval, perhaps – so that the evening can end on a heartstoppingly loud gunshot before the curtain call.

    The party in question is a small, select soiree held in a book-lined London townhouse owned by Janet, a politician played by Kristin Scott Thomas, and her academic classicist husband Bill (Timothy Spall). We are firmly in the realm of elites and experts. The celebration is in aid of Janet getting the prestigious job of shadow health minister – a stepping stone on the way to party leader and prime minister. She is on the verge of greatness.

    Her guests include Tom (Cillian Murphy), a smooth, well-dressed banker who keeps sweating, sniffing and running off to the bathroom. He has been assisting Janet with private-sector partnership initiatives. (Her party leader is therefore not Jeremy Corbyn ... but could be Theresa May). Janet’s old friend Jenny, wittily played by Patricia Clarkson, shows up with her insufferable new-agey boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz). And an old university contemporary of Bill’s, Martha (Cherry Jones), is there with her pregnant partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer).

    Perhaps it is possible to write a movie or play set at a party in which festering secrets do not rise to the surface, do not explode, do not leave the guests stunned with the knowledge that after this catharsis things can never be the same.

    Not here. The party is simmering with repression. As she puts together canapés in the kitchen, Janet is giggling over racy texts from a secret lover. Bill looks stunned, almost catatonic, playing loud records as if in a world of his own. Martha and Jinny have issues they haven’t quite come to terms with and Tom has brought a certain something to the party that we are to see in Janet’s vengeful hand in the flashforward instant that starts the film.

    It all kicks off mightily. People make personal announcements of the sort that punctuate parties in films, which are then superseded by other announcements – unexpected and unwelcome. There are rows. People get slapped and punched. Someone lies catatonic on the ground, bringing to the proceedings a touch of Ortonesque black-comic panic. It is pure farce, but at its centre, Scott Thomas’s drawn, wan poise keeps things from accelerating out of control.

    And with admirable discipline, Potter keeps the running time within strict bounds. Like the best sort of party guest, it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

    Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, Monday 13th February 2017. From the Berlin Film Festival.

    The Party review: Sally Potter’s fast and furious farce

    The versatile writer-director’s latest is a dark satire exposing the foibles of the British middle classes, and political systems, with barbed dialogue and delicious irony.

    However you may feel about individual films she has made, Sally Potter can be counted on for a number of things. First, there is her enduring commitment to a cinema of real intelligence, treating interesting subjects in a properly adult, inquisitive way. Second, there is her fascination with issues related to gender politics, which has never been articulated through obvious, romanticised or over-simplified sloganeering. Third, there is her imaginative, sensitive and highly expressive use of music. And fourth, there is her capacity to surprise; a restless curiosity ensures that her each and every film feels somehow different from its predecessors.

    All this is true of her latest, The Party. The title may quite possibly allude to two different meanings of the word, since the gathering in question is at the home of Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), assembled to celebrate her long-awaited appointment as a minister in the shadow cabinet. A motley group of friends have been invited around, but any upbeat atmosphere – and perhaps there isn’t that much anyway, given the waspishly cynical comments regularly contributed by Janet’s best friend April (Patricia Clarkson) – is soon destroyed when the host’s husband 

    Bill (Timothy Spall), reputedly a sterling supporter of her professional ambitions, makes a sudden announcement that shocks everyone present. Not that his revelation stops them arguing among themselves; indeed, it is merely the first of many in what rapidly becomes a whirlwind vortex of in-fighting, recrimination and revenge.

    If, for the first few minutes, some of the bitchy dialogue seems a little arch and Spall’s largely silent, staring, numbed performance appears a tad theatrical, that’s no reason for worry, for Potter is making her first brave and for the most part very successful foray into a kind of dark satirical farce. As you might expect, hers is a comedy of contemporary socio-political manners, but it’s inflected here with a deliciously ironic touch as she probes and examines a range of human foibles. The characters may be recognisable ‘types’ – besides the politician, we have academics, a financier, an aromatherapist and so on – but they are never merely stereotypes, since Potter understands that people often don’t practise what they preach, and even when they do, what they’re preaching may be riddled with absurd contradictions and self-serving illogicalities.

    Could this be an allegorical portrait of British politics today? That may be pushing a metaphorical reading too far, though Potter has said that, writing the film during the 2015 general election, she wanted to evoke the kind of “chronic insincerity” she saw on display during the campaign. That said, what matters is whether the film’s critical portrait of a certain sector of modern British society succeeds dramatically and comedically; and with a deftly constructed, fast-moving real-time storyline, credibly vivid characters and deliciously barbed exchanges coming thick and fast, it unquestionably does.  

    Shooting in a studio over just two weeks, Potter benefitted from a small, well-chosen and excellent cast; in addition to Scott Thomas, Spall and Clarkson, she drew on the expertise of Cherry JonesEmily MortimerCillian Murphy and Bruno Ganz. Likewise, blues, rock, reggae, jazz, tango, Purcell and Paredes (not to mention some judiciously selected classical poetry) are put to wonderfully nuanced and eloquent service, exemplifying the highly detailed precision of Potter’s dramaturgy. If further proof of that were needed, how about a 71-minute running time? It races by without ever leaving us feel in any way short-changed; these days, that in itself is reason for praise.

    Geoff Andrew, Sight and Sound, 15th September 2017.


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    Total Number of Responses: 53
    Film Score (0-5): 4.47