The Party Review
Bill (Timothy Spall) blasts old blues and jazz records in the living room, before sitting in the armchair and staring blankly into the garden ahead of him. His wife, Janet (Kristen Scott-Thomas), prepares dinner for the soon-to-arrive guests who will be celebrating her promotion to Shadow Health Minister. Everyone's bursting with pride, including her secret lover who keeps texting and calling at inappropriate moments. April, (Patricia Clarkson), arrives first with spiritualist boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) in tow, her acerbic wit cutting straight through the crap. Martha (Cherry Jones) turns up with her younger and pregnant partner, Jinny (Emily Mortimer) and lastly, Tom (Cillian Murphy), appears without his wife Marianne, hot, bothered and acting rather peculiarly.
So opens director Sally Potter's politically inspired drama reflecting on modern Britain, as seen through the eyes of the elite middle class. Correct and present is the politician, the professor, the feminist, the spiritualist, the banker - there's even a cook and a lover - all that's missing is the thief. This shortened chamber piece rapidly descends into farce once Bill fires off two dramatic announcements that usurps the good news they have gathered to celebrate. Once the floodgates have been opened the pleasant façades begin to fade away and true feelings embarrassingly make themselves known.
At some point we know that a gun will be drawn, after the film opens with Janet poised at the front door, revolver pointing directly at the camera. How we get to that dramatic point is problematic. Rarely do you see such an experienced cast left floundering to get to grips with what it is they are supposed to be doing. Clarkson is handed all the best lines which she delivers with absolute relish. Spall is an odd fit for the role of a drunk professor and it's hard to recall a time when he has appeared so miscast. Murphy is the coked-up "wanker banker" with much more on his mind than his wallet and while his character is central to the absurdity, like everyone around him, it's all a little too strained.
It's unclear whether the crisp black and white aesthetic is intended to distance this scenario from reality, or if the opposite is intended. The theatrical staging of the group's overcooked antics lends itself to caricature but, similarly, you are left unsure how deliberate this is. Potter is having fun laying into this bunch of middle class carnivores, each one selfishly turning on each other with glee. Rather than become lost in the joy of their reckless behaviour, The Party quickly begins to grate. If this is how Potter views the state of Britain today - dull, annoying and grey - then the carnage of reality seems like a far better alternative.