The Party

 

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An English gathering releases hidden truths in a way that recalls the Danish film Festen.

 
The Party 

Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson and Bruno Ganz

 

This new film from writer/director Sally Potter is her first since Ginger & Rosa in 2012 and has a distinctive voice rather different from anything in her earlier work. The closest comparison is probably with Roman Polanski’s Carnage (2011) adapted by Yasmina Reza from her play even though The Party is in contrast a screen original. However, several aspects found here prompt thoughts of the stage. The story takes place in a single interior setting, plays out in real time and relies for its impact on the words spoken by a cast of seven.

 

Although in publicity much has been made of the film’s humour (Potter herself has described it as a comedy wrapped around a tragedy), The Party opens dramatically before showing the events that led up to this moment. A bizarre arrangement of Parry’s ‘Jerusalem’, that nationalistic icon from the Last Night of the Proms, starts off the film and is, perhaps, a hint that Potter’s piece is intended as a state of the nation work. Certainly it is built around a celebration by Britain’s newly appointed Shadow Minister for Health, Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) who, with her husband Bill (Timothy Spall), has invited as guests her cynical friend April (Patricia Clarkson), April’s German companion Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), a lesbian couple (Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer) and a successful banker, Tom (Cillian Murphy), whose wife, delayed, will be a late arrival on the scene.

 

The talk of these people, following on from Bill’s unexpected announcement that he is terminally ill, is by turns biting, comic and confessional. As one would expect of such a cast, the delivery of the dialogue is expert but, ably directed and shot in black and white ’Scope though it is, The Party nevertheless feels like a piece that would be more at home on the stage. There’s a degree of artificiality that the theatre encompasses more readily than cinema does and here, be it on account of the abrupt switches in tone or due to the contrived plot revelations that carry a distant echo of Iris Murdoch’s novels, the actors can never quite persuade us that they are playing characters of flesh and blood. The Party does at least hold together better than Carnage did and, if you liked Polanski’s film, you may well relish this one. In any case, the unusually short running time (71 minutes), the quality of the acting and the intriguingly unusual nature of the enterprise ensure that The Party is never boring. What it lacks for me, despite the many reflections of contemporary attitudes, is any real sense that Sally Potter had something significant to say and has said it. As for the jokes, the best is a musical one when a familiar work by Purcell turns up at a wonderfully inappropriate moment.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall.

 

Dir Sally Potter, Pro Christopher Sheppard and Kurban Kassam, Screenplay Sally Potter, Ph Alexey Rodionov, Pro Des Carlos Conti, Ed Anders Refn and Emilie Orsini, Costumes Jane Petrie.

 

Adventure Pictures/Great Point Media/Oxwich Media Limited/BBC Films-Picturehouse Entertainment.
71 mins. UK/Denmark. 2017. Rel: 13 October 2017. Cert. 15.