The Party Review

Comedies don’t get much darker than this pitch-black British movie, written and directed by Sally Potter (Ginger & Rosa) with lacerating irony and such a furious sense of humour that it’s impossible to stifle our laughter no matter how we try. Impeccably played by a great cast, it’s a lot like watching a play, as it unfolds in real time in a single setting with just seven characters. But Potter’s decision to film it in black and white adds a sharp edge of surrealism that makes it also feel like a classic.


It opens as Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) is preparing for a small dinner party to celebrate her appointment as a government minister. With something else on his mind, her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) is completely drunk before the first guest arrives, but Janet doesn’t really notice. Her outspoken best friend April (Patricia Clarkson) turns up first with her German philosopher boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz). Next is feminist professor Martha (Cherry Jones) and her younger girlfriend Jinny (Emily Mortimer), who is pregnant with triplets. And finally it’s the banker Tom (Cillian Murphy), hopped up on cocaine with a gun in his pocket. His wife is running late. And over the next hour, everyone lets a few secrets out of the bag.


The film’s brisk running time flies past in a flurry of hysterical verbal wordplay that turns people from conspiratorial buddies to jaded enemies within seconds. Scott Thomas is on fire in her role, bitching with her friends, playing nice to her congratulatory phone calls then whispering secretly when her illicit lover calls. Spall is excellent as a man who seems to be drinking himself to death but is merely biding time until he drops a bombshell into the conversation. And Clarkson wins the scene-stealing prize simply because her viciously honest character gets all the best lines.


With the monochrome photography and jazz records playing in the living room, the film often feels like it’s set in the 1950s, but it’s very much a present-day story. Potter is playing with the way people, especially politicians, are required to have a public face that hides what’s really going on in their lives. And in this film all of the masks begin to slip in ways that are earth-shaking, as these powerful people realise that they might not be in control after all. And the fact that this film is so consistently hilarious right to the bitter end is no mean feat.