THE PARTY. Starring: Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Timothy Spall. Directed by Sally Potter. Rated MA 15+. Restricted. (Strong drug use). 74 min.
This Danish-British production tells the story of a celebratory party that goes wrong when relationships among those present reveal their true nature in a dark way.
Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) holds an intimate party at her London town-house to celebrate the announcement that she will be the new Shadow Minister for Health, and she invites six friends to join her and her husband. She has long-awaited her prestigious advancement, and believes it is a stepping stone to eventually becoming party leader. She is married to long-suffering Bill (Timothy Spall), an academic, who spends much of his time at the party sitting in a chair, drunk, listening to music, and staring vacantly ahead until he grabs the moment to speak.
While the party is in progress, Janet busily exchanges phone and text messages with an ardent, persistent lover, who is obviously not her husband. In the course of the party, Bill announces that he has just been told he is terminally ill, and Janet responds by saying she will resign from her position to take care of him. Bill, however, then tells everyone that he has decided to leave Janet for Marianne, who is yet to arrive at the party. Tom (Cillian Murphy), Marianne’s husband, and who is present at the party in a highly agitated state, jealously gets into a fight with Bill. Everyone at the party has news to share as the party disintegrates under the weight of their relationship tensions.
The film ends as the doorbell rings. Janet rushes to the door with Tom’s gun in her hand, but we are not shown the identity of the visitor. Guests at the party are Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), a self-proclaimed Faith healer; female partners Martha (Cherry Jones) and a pregnant Jinny (Emily Mortimer) whose relationship is fraught with difficulties; and a self-confessed cynic, April (Patricia Clarkson), who declares her support to Janet when the time comes. April is skilled at cruelty, a mistress of venomous put-downs, and expects “the worst of everyone in the name of realism”.
The movie is a sharp social satire where modern relationship and political issues are put under intense scrutiny. The ensemble of actors extracts black comedy from a script that tells a tragic story of relationships gone horribly wrong. Sally Potter’s direction is taut and terrific. She extracts laughter from tragedy that makes what happens tolerable to watch, and she dissects the personal and social pretensions of London politics and mores in a way that turns the film into a dark comedy of manners. The acting is flawless, and Potter’s direction is insightful and acute. By the end of the film, we know this is a party that no one in their right mind would want to go to. The plot twists and turns to a surprising finish that is actually the opening scene of the movie. We never know who is knocking at the door, but at the end we know more about who it might be.
The intimacy of the party is communicated by tightly controlled camera work in a small, 3-room set. The movie is in black-and-white and its scripting is smart and satirically funny as things go terribly wrong when private secrets are shared in public that turn Janet’s house into a veritable war-zone. When the film ends, the viewer knows that no existing relationship between any of the people at the party will ever be the same again, and it gives us a fierce look at how prevailing mores cannot cope with modern failures in relationship, which this group so ably demonstrates.
The movie moves briskly from one shocking encounter to the next. The issues and ideas embedded in the guests’ conversations range from personal identity, to feminism, betrayal, the fickleness of declared affection, democracy, rejection, and the transient nature of relationships that have been formed in disillusioned settings. The film is a social-political commentary on 21st. Century Britain, and it takes pointed aim at middle-class liberal elitism. Throughout, its images are accompanied by a wonderful, contrasting soundtrack of jazz, blues and reggae music.
This is a smart, biting black comedy that aims its satire widely, and scores in very sharp fashion.
Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released April 12th., 2018