The Party – Film Review by David Minogue
Directed and written by Sally Potter
Cinematography – Aleksei Rodionov
Stars – Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Cillian Murphy, Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Emily Mortimer, Cherry Jones.
Sally Potter has described her new political comedy The Party as ‘a light and loving look at the state of England’. She began writing it in a time of much political change in 2015 and it was filmed a year later in just two weeks. The film shoot coincided with the result of the vote on Brexit. At this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Sally Potter realised that she had been writing the film with a ‘prescient sense of what happens when things go wrong’ and when ‘people lose sense of their principles’. What the meaning of her film The Party in turn became was a matter of the importance of truth-telling. The home of a newly appointed Shadow Health Secretary is the setting of The Party where Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) host an evening to celebrate her promotion. The guests include her friend April (Patricia Clarkson) and her estranged husband Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), Martha (Cherry Jones) and her partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer) and Tom (Cillian Murphy) who arrives ahead of his partner Marianne. Janet organises the meal and sees to guests as she maintains a hushed private conversation on her mobile phone. The Party is only 71 minutes and the sequences all happens within the house and back garden. It is shot in crisp black and white by cinematographer Aleksei Rodionov who previously worked with Potter on her films Orlando (1992) and Yes (2004). As the action is completely character centred it contains many extreme close-up shots so the audience sees every reaction magnified.
As the story progresses it rapidly becomes apparent that each person in the house harbours a secret of their own. Potter has said that she wanted this film to be a purely cinematic experience but its parallels are more akin to stage drama. It is pure middle class farce which is never completely believable but is fun to watch. It is an ensemble affair with each actor allowed their own star moment. Of all the guests, April has the sharpest wit and has little time for most of the guests but is completely faithful in her friendship with Janet. Patricia Clarkson always adds an extra dimension to any film that she is in but she excels here making great use of Potter’s sharp dialogue. The most manic performance is Cillian Murphy as Tom as he literally climbs the walls of the kitchen in his nervous energy. Of the various relationships, the one between Jinny and Martha is the least well depicted which is unfortunate as it was an opportunity to see a married same-sex couple depicted in a positive light. Values, morals and what people thought to be real and true all crumble around them. The brisk running time allows its action to escalate quickly and it is a film where every scene is used to full comedic or dramatic effect.