The Party (Sally Potter, 2017)
I so nearly didn’t go to see this — I’ve twice felt too tired this week to do an 8.30 Blade Runner 2049 rewatch, and I do need to subject myself to Thor: Ragnarok and I’d not quite twigged that this was a Sally Potter film. That being said, it’s a long time since I saw Orlando and The Man Who Cried and I really need to fill in those gaps. But the fact that I ran late despite an event being cancelled meant the 5.00 screening was perfect and I could have been home for The Archers if I’d not called into Aldi.
It’s a seventy minute black and white comedy with a high-octane, all-star cast: Timothy Spall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Bruno Ganz (from various Wim Wenders movies), Cillian Murphy, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, plus Cherry Jones who I don’t recall seeing before. It’s the kind of dark, ensemble cast that Woody Allen could pull off about thirty years ago (but don’t let that put you off) or Abigail’s Party/High Hopes Mike Leigh film without the anxiety that everyone is patronising their characters.
Beginning with Scott Thomas pointing a gun at the camera and thus at us, this is one film I almost feel should be in 3D, especially with some of the unrelenting close-ups of Spall (and oddly, he reminded me of an older David Tennant). We are trapped in a few rooms — kitchen, living room, bathroom — and a backyard, with an unrelenting mobile phone belonging to Scott Thomas’s character. Indeed, aside from one magical realist touch, heavily symbolic in retrospect, this could be a one-act play.
Janet (Scott Thomas) is preparing for a party to mark becoming shadow minister for health whilst her husband Bill (Spall) is almost silent in the living room, playing vinyl (the soundtrack is perfect, juicily so when a character puts on “Dido’s Lament”). Alongside thanking those who are ringing to congratulate her, she’s also clearly conducting a clandestine affair. Her guests include her old friend Jinny (Clarkson) and her husband life coach Gottfried (Ganz), lesbian couple Jinny (Mortimer) and Martha (Jones) — an old friend of Bill’s — and the wanker banker Tom (Murphy), husband of the hated Marianne, to whom Janet is superior (but definitely not the boss). Marianne is running late. Tom immediately retires to snort coke in the bathroom and reveals that — unless a massive coincidence is at work in what has to be Hampstead — his is the gun.
Whilst the old friends hover between congratulations and resentment — one of them is uncertain that parliamentary democracy can make things better — things go from bad to worse as three of the characters hijack the celebration to make Revelations that will potentially drive a wedge between them and lead to that gun being pulled. Alongside Allen and Leigh is Buñuel (for the social claustrophobia) and Chekov (for the fate of the Act One gun over the fire place).
Potter’s script plays fair with each of the characters, with the potential exception of Tom, who you really want to slap. Even then, he has a justification and a redemption. And still needs slapping.
If, after the twists and turns of getting there, there is a whiff of an obvious ending, even that is in tune with the incestuous counter establishment establishment of Nwhichever. Curiously, we never do quite pass the Bechdel Test (Bill, Gottfried, Tom and others are too present for that), there is both a sense of drama built around adult relationships between women and some witty critiques of second and third wave feminism, even if perhaps the youngest female is the least open minded of the characters. It is laugh out loud funny — and will clearly play on the BBC in the not too distant future. It’s a treat.