The Party Review
The screenplay for The Party was written long before the divisive Brexit election, but was filmed in the midst of a campaign that tore British society apart. It’s in this context that Sally Potter’s film has been viewed; a chamber piece with minimal political commentary has been transformed into a feature length metaphor for leaving the European Union. It’s hard to divorce the film from this reading, even though it doesn’t coherently hang together as a political allegory in this vein- in fact, viewing The Party as a stealth political film only makes its shortcomings more apparent. This insufferably smug, pseudo-intellectual middle class satire feels like a forgotten chapter from Quentin Tarantino’s post-Pulp Fiction anthology film Four Rooms, only with an increased sense of self-importance.
Janet (Kristen Scott-Thomas), an idealist politician for the Labour Party, has been promoted to the position of Shadow Minister of Health, and is throwing a party for some close friends to celebrate. As the guests arrive, Janet’s husband Bill (Timothy Spall) sits motionless in his armchair as the other guests make small talk around him. After couple Martha and Jinny (Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer) announce they are expecting a child, Bill makes his own announcement. Not only does this drown out the good news from Janet, Martha and Jinny, it also puts a spanner to the plan of cocaine-addled banker Tom (Cillian Murphy), who appears determined to put an end to Bill’s life for some unexplained reason. Further secrets are revealed by all the party guests, and the claustrophobic environment grows increasingly hostile.
Although billed as a black comedy, The Party is curiously laugh free. In fact, the whole film seems reverse engineered to build up to a climactic punchline that is tediously predictable and every bit as nonsensical as the overbearing attempts at farce that preceded it. As a political satire, it’s slightly more successful, yet doesn’t fully cohere to fit any particular political narrative thrust onto it by certain viewers - although this is to be expected in an age where cultural criticism largely revolves around lazily viewing every other film as an allegory for either Brexit or Trump, regardless of the political intent of the filmmakers.
The Brexit parallels seem almost entirely unintentional, while the other central allegory recognised by viewers (reflecting the NHS funding crisis) seems to stem almost entirely from one line of dialogue and the barely relevant job promotion received by Scott-Thomas’ character, which I viewed only as a mere McGuffin to get the party organised. The one reading in which it almost functions as a political allegory is as a metaphor reflecting the clash between the centrist and socialist factions of the Labour Party that have intensified since Jeremy Corbyn’s 2015 leadership election win. But once again, viewing it in this light gives credit to the screenplay for an intelligence it doesn’t possess.
It’s not that films based around overbearing metaphors can’t successfully function. I’m an avid supporter of Darren Aronofsky’s divisive mother!, an ingeniously written nightmare also about a party gone wrong, yet crafted in a way that opens itself up to multiple interpretations with full plausibility. But the reason mother! works when The Party doesn’t is because, when taken at face value, it’s an incredibly unique cinematic experience. In comparison, Sally Potter’s film just feels like a hangover from the nineties, with very little intrigue to its central premise even before you start working out what it’s a metaphor representing.
Special Features: As well as a whole host of cast interviews, there’s also a short documentary on the film’s production design. The film was originally going to be shot in a real property, only for Sally Potter to change her mind a few weeks before filming - unfortunately, the bonus feature itself isn’t as interesting as it sounds. But it’s still a whole lot more involving than The Party.