If you’d just been promoted to Shadow Minister for Health, wouldn’t you feel that a small party might be in order? Just a small get together with your nearest and dearest surely couldn’t hurt. Well, after watching The Party, it turns out you may want to reconsider.
A sharp and deeply funny chamber piece, this black comedy is brought to life by its stellar cast. Heading up is Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) as the recently promoted Shadow Minister, thrilled to scale these political heights. Co-hosting the party is her husband Bill (Timothy Spall), a man who gave up his career to help propel her to the top. Joining them is Janet’s cynical childhood friend April (Patricia Clarkson), who’s brought along her estranged partner, the ‘spiritual’ life-coach Gottfried (played by Bruno Ganz – Hitler from the Downfall memes). Rounding off the cast are Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer as mothers to be Martha and Jinny, and Cillian Murphy as a banker married to Janet’s spin doctor, a man thoroughly tired of all these champagne socialists.
“The Party is filled with tension from the get-go, pitching characters against each other”
As the cynic, April gets the best lines of the bunch, brushing off Martha as “a first-class lesbian but a second-rate thinker”. The clashes between her and the maddeningly-eccentric Gottfried are the funniest in the film, and burst out in almost every scene. These clashes are symptomatic of the script’s scepticism about long term relationships, and maintaining happiness through change. Both written and directed by Sally Potter, who over the years has won shedloads of awards for films including Orlando and The Tango Lesson, The Party is filled with tension from the get-go, pitching characters against each other and bringing out unanimously brilliant performances from every member of the cast. The most striking directorial choice however, is using black and white cinematography, giving a kind of eerie timelessness and inevitability to the plot.
For all its strengths, the film isn’t perfect. Most noticeably, at time the script can be a bit clunky, especially in the early scenes. As Bill, Timothy Spall affects a spaced-out manner, which is sort of explained but never really justified, and all the characters can have a propensity to dip into caricature at the big moments. Yet the good vastly outweighs the bad. Not only is it laugh-out-loud funny, but sweet and thoughtful.
The monochrome filming keeps you far enough away to see the humour, whilst keeping it vivid enough to feel every emotional blow. Staging the party almost entirely in two rooms keeps the tension ratcheted up, and there’s no flab at all. And best of all, a cute fox named Cherry makes an appearance. All in all, The Party is a fantastic little picture, a black comedy filled with sharp twists and delightful lines. With insights into relationships, friendships and politics, and ranging from riotous to shocking, this film is definitely worth a watch.
Dir: Sally Potter. Script: Sally Potter. Starring: Kristin Scott Thomas; Timothy Spall; Patricia Clarkson; Emily Mortimer. 71 minutes