Emily Bray shares her thoughts on Sally Potter’s hotly anticipated film The Party.
Sally Potter’s new film is a neat little comedy, sandwiched in health helpings of tragedy. Seven motley guests assemble at the house of Bill & Janet (Timothy Spall & Kristin Scott Thomas) to celebrate Janet’s new role as Shadow Minister of Health. Everything is going swimmingly until Janet’s husband Bill, makes a shocking announcement causing multiple spanners to be plunged into the works, causing the civilized celebration to descend into chaos.
Spall has a fabulous turn as the gormless Bill, who spends the best part of the film glugging red wine and swaying to his jazz collection, as his wife Janet immaculately prepares for her guests. Scott Thomas is perfect as the pristine overachiever Janet, relishing in her newfound success. Set in just three rooms (and the garden) of a very nice house, the piece requires a strong ensemble performance – and the cast do not disappoint. All the characters present familiar stereotypes; there is an expecting lesbian couple, an academic, a philosopher, a sanctimonious politician and a wanker banker. Cillian Murphy seems to be acting in a slightly different film to the others (perhaps an early Guy Ritchie piece) as his amusing drug addled, disgruntled Tom freaks out the other guests with his increasingly mad behaviour. Individually they aren’t particularly interesting, but the interactions make for fascinating viewing.
The expressive use of music is particularly notable. All chosen from Potter’s personal collection, it adds a fraught energy and helps to crack the stiff middle class facade of the diners. Similarly the prolific use of extreme close-ups helps us get into the action and frequently the grills of our protagonists – which has the effect of making the audience feel like a passive participant in the ill-fated party.
Being shot in black adds nothing to the film and the 71 minutes running time means the action is over before it has really begun. Potter claims that the running time ensured that ‘all fat was cut out,’ however despite its dense dialogue and pseudo intellectual characters – it skirts around ‘serious’ topics such as the NHS and the artificial insemination – never actually getting to the meat of any subject broached. I couldn’t help but think that it would have worked better as a play, but it was a Party that I enjoyed attending – and would probably go again (if I was invited back).