The soiree after which Sally Potter’s The Party is named becomes the unrighteous playing ground for attacks and acknowledgements, snarky comments and a wild stream of unpredictable drama. Often, the name of famed British director Sally Potter does not instinctively evoke the idea of comedy, but her new film hones into a feeling that is more representative of a Beckett or an Albee play than it is of a typical Sally Potter film.
The story follows Janet (Kristen Scott Thomas) and her apparently gruff, cantankerous husband Bill (Timothy Spall), as they invite a few friends over for an intimate evening to celebrate Janet’s recent promotion to Minister of Health. As the house begins to fill with the other party guests: an expecting lesbian couple, Cillian Murphy as Tom, the handsome “wanker banker” husband of Marianne – a character expected to arrive (a Godot type expectation) – the plot begins to unfold.
Bill drops a bombshell announcement on the party which changes not only the air of the party, but the contemplations of everyone involved. From the beginning, Tom seems anxious; he arrives to the party and immediately escapes for some cocaine, then a gun, before shouting to himself in the mirror. Murphy dazzles in his portrayal of this character, flustered by anxiety. A different actor may have missed the mark on portraying such an un-contextualised breakdown, but his commitment to the character’s desperate (albeit failed) attempt for ease leaves us intrigued and desperate for more.
Beyond wildly compelling drama and the beautiful black and white cinematography of Aleskei Rodinov, this film serves as a hilarious political antidote to the post-Brexit era. Speckled with comical yet withering one-liners from the brilliant Patricia Clarkson and naturally satirical dialogue, the film makes a superb case for the questions of priorities in middle class, academic life. Bill convincingly rants about his inability to have faith because of his materialism, yet starkly calls out Tom’s evils for being a wealthy banker. The “lesbian and gender studies” academic admits to sleeping with a man, and the husband of the Minister of Health only sees private doctors.
Throughout the film’s capturing and overall entertaining story, we see that what pains us most at the end of the day is not our ideological commitments, but rather our personal attachments.
Image: BFI London Film Festival