Director: Sally Potter
Scriptwriter: Sally Potter
Kristin Scott Thomas
Runtime: 71 mins.
Australian release date: 12 April 2018
Previewed at: Somerville Auditorium, Perth, on 6 January 2018.
A very funny social satire, Sally Potter’s The Party is a short (at 71 minutes), sharp, brilliant exposé of the British political and intellectual classes. Assembling a formidable ensemble cast headed by Kristin Scott Thomas and her Trans-Atlantic ‘bestie’ Patricia Clarkson, Potter takes us on a swift journey into a world of aspiration and discontent, one that pays heed to the adage ‘be careful what you wish for…’ In this case, she delves into the mind of a woman who has reached the pinnacle of success and yet has paid a price that may have cost more than the prize is worth. “I really wanted to do something that came at political life through the prism of the politics of personal life; relationships, shifting tectonic plates of power, love, desire, betrayal, longing, disappointment, and so on. In a way, these were universal human experiences people might have in a lifetime but condensed into an hour-and-a-half of real time,” the director says.
Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) has just been appointed the Shadow Minister for Health for an unspecified political party and, to celebrate, she invites some close friends to her modest London flat for a dinner party, one that she is self-catering while receiving constant phone messages from an unknown lover. Thus we see that she is, above all, a Renaissance woman, able to juggle many roles simultaneously. Her morose husband of many years, Bill (Timothy Spall), is in the dining room, self-absorbed but getting solace from his wine and his vast vinyl record collection. Janet’s cynical gal-pal April (Patricia Clarkson) arrives with her self-proclaimed ‘spiritual healer’ husband Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) and it’s immediately clear that their relationship has definitely reached its use-by date. They are followed by Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer), a lesbian couple quite different in age and, lastly, Tom (Cillian Murphy), a highly agitated banker who arrives alone, explaining that his wife Marianne will be coming separately. Tom spends an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom, inhaling an unspecified white powder and becoming increasingly paranoid. As with all the best dinner parties, while the evening progresses secrets are revealed and events begin to spiral out of control. And then there’s a knock on the door.
The Party is an aural (it opens with a terrific guitar rendition of Jerusalem) and visual delight, beautifully captured in crisp black and white cinematography by Aleksei Rodionov’s masterful lens. It is definitely one of the most acerbic scripts you’ll see this year, featuring some brilliant one-liners from Clarkson’s character. Potter leaves no stone unturned in her ruthless and sardonic portrayal of people behaving badly, beautifully portrayed by the excellent ensemble cast. It reminds you of a modern-day Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? At the end of the night, you’re left feeling as if you’ve savoured a somewhat bitter cake dripping with irony, made with sponge that’s been slightly burnt by cynicism, but a dessert that leaves you hankering for a second helping all the same.