Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: The Party

Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: The Party

Article excerpt

Sally Potter's The Party, which unfolds in real time during a politician's soirée to celebrate her promotion, is just 71 minutes long, but it certainly packs a punch. Actually, make that two. Two punches (at least). And there's a gun, cocaine, a smashed window, throwing up, toxic revelations (of course) and a tray of incinerated vol-au-vents. It is less than half the length of, say, Blade Runner 2049, but three times as dramatic, and maybe 676 times as entertaining, plus it features a stellar cast who put the work in and don't discover stuff by simply staring at it really, really hard.

Filmed in black and white, which gives it the retro feel of an old Play for Today (but crisper), the film is said to be a satire on 'broken Britain' and 'a state-of-the-nation commentary', but you can see that or not see that or just half see it or even just glimpse it momentarily. It's hard to know, in fact, what it is saying exactly, but at least it is trying to say something, and at least it is trying to say something briskly.

It begins with a hauntingly eerie guitar rendition of 'Jerusalem' (composed by Potter's long-term musical collaborator, Fred Frith) as a dishevelled, flustered woman opens her front door and waveringly points a gun at a person as yet unknown. We then spool back in time to see that this is Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), who, just an hour or so earlier, had been in her kitchen, taking phone calls congratulating her on her promotion to shadow health secretary as she's preparing for the party. (That is, the party tonight, and also the party in a political sense, one assumes; it's never specified that she's Labour but it is intimated strongly.)

Meanwhile, her husband Bill (Timothy Spall), an academic, seems ominously unenthused as he sits in the other room listening to his vinyl in an almost catatonic state. (He does a lot of staring, admittedly.) As for the guests, they are Janet's oldest friend April (Patricia Clarkson), a former activist and constantly wise-cracking cynic who admires Janet's pinny as 'post-modern, post-post-feminist', which made me laugh, I have to say. Her partner is Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), a woo-woo, new-agey 'lifestyle coach' who would be beloved by April if only she didn't hate him so much. Then there's a lesbian couple, Martha and Jinny (Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer), and Tom (Cillian Murphy), a sweaty, wired, coke-snorter who brings 'Chekhov's gun' into the mix. …

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