The Party

Sally Potter
Release Year:
Length (mins):
Sally Potter, Walter Donohue (story editor)
Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall
Screening Date:
  • 12 Mar 2019
  • Categories:
    Comedy, Drama

    Kristin Scott Thomas stars as a British opposition politician throwing a party for friends at her London flat, but things do not go according to plan. Fine ensemble cast with a fast-paced script from the director of “Orlando”. 

    What's this?
    F-Rated Gold

    Film Notes

    The Party review – conniptions amid the canapés in an observant real-time farce

    4 stars out of 5..

    Kristin Scott Thomas stars as a shadow cabinet member hosting one of those dos at which shock revelation follows shock revelation, in Sally Potter’s short, smart comedy.

    Sally Potter’s 71-minute film The Party is a short, sharp, funny shock of a movie; a theatrical drawing-room comedy which plays out in real time with elegance and dispatch, cantering up to a cheeky punchline twist which leaves you laughing over the final credits. It’s written and directed by Potter, and the action is starkly lit and shot in black and white by Russian cinematographer Aleksei Rodionov.

    Unassuming and old-fashioned funny entertainment isn’t exactly what we associate with this film-maker, but that’s what she has very satisfyingly served up here. It’s not especially resonant or profound but it is observant and smart, with some big laughs in the dialogue. The whole thing is enjoyably absurd though not precisely absurdist.

    The Party is like a kind of one-act play by Simon Gray or Anthony Schaffer, which might be produced on stage as the second half of a double-bill – with an early piece by Stoppard before the interval, perhaps – so that the evening can end on a heartstoppingly loud gunshot before the curtain call.

    The party in question is a small, select soiree held in a book-lined London townhouse owned by Janet, a politician played by Kristin Scott Thomas, and her academic classicist husband Bill (Timothy Spall). We are firmly in the realm of elites and experts. The celebration is in aid of Janet getting the prestigious job of shadow health minister – a stepping stone on the way to party leader and prime minister. She is on the verge of greatness.

    Her guests include Tom (Cillian Murphy), a smooth, well-dressed banker who keeps sweating, sniffing and running off to the bathroom. He has been assisting Janet with private-sector partnership initiatives. (Her party leader is therefore not Jeremy Corbyn ... but could be Theresa May). Janet’s old friend Jenny, wittily played by Patricia Clarkson, shows up with her insufferable new-agey boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz). And an old university contemporary of Bill’s, Martha (Cherry Jones), is there with her pregnant partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer).

    Perhaps it is possible to write a movie or play set at a party in which festering secrets do not rise to the surface, do not explode, do not leave the guests stunned with the knowledge that after this catharsis things can never be the same.

    Not here. The party is simmering with repression. As she puts together canapés in the kitchen, Janet is giggling over racy texts from a secret lover. Bill looks stunned, almost catatonic, playing loud records as if in a world of his own. Martha and Jinny have issues they haven’t quite come to terms with and Tom has brought a certain something to the party that we are to see in Janet’s vengeful hand in the flashforward instant that starts the film.

    It all kicks off mightily. People make personal announcements of the sort that punctuate parties in films, which are then superseded by other announcements – unexpected and unwelcome. There are rows. People get slapped and punched. Someone lies catatonic on the ground, bringing to the proceedings a touch of Ortonesque black-comic panic. It is pure farce, but at its centre, Scott Thomas’s drawn, wan poise keeps things from accelerating out of control.

    And with admirable discipline, Potter keeps the running time within strict bounds. Like the best sort of party guest, it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

    Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, Monday 13th February 2017. From the Berlin Film Festival.

    The Party review: Sally Potter’s fast and furious farce

    The versatile writer-director’s latest is a dark satire exposing the foibles of the British middle classes, and political systems, with barbed dialogue and delicious irony.

    However you may feel about individual films she has made, Sally Potter can be counted on for a number of things. First, there is her enduring commitment to a cinema of real intelligence, treating interesting subjects in a properly adult, inquisitive way. Second, there is her fascination with issues related to gender politics, which has never been articulated through obvious, romanticised or over-simplified sloganeering. Third, there is her imaginative, sensitive and highly expressive use of music. And fourth, there is her capacity to surprise; a restless curiosity ensures that her each and every film feels somehow different from its predecessors.

    All this is true of her latest, The Party. The title may quite possibly allude to two different meanings of the word, since the gathering in question is at the home of Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), assembled to celebrate her long-awaited appointment as a minister in the shadow cabinet. A motley group of friends have been invited around, but any upbeat atmosphere – and perhaps there isn’t that much anyway, given the waspishly cynical comments regularly contributed by Janet’s best friend April (Patricia Clarkson) – is soon destroyed when the host’s husband 

    Bill (Timothy Spall), reputedly a sterling supporter of her professional ambitions, makes a sudden announcement that shocks everyone present. Not that his revelation stops them arguing among themselves; indeed, it is merely the first of many in what rapidly becomes a whirlwind vortex of in-fighting, recrimination and revenge.

    If, for the first few minutes, some of the bitchy dialogue seems a little arch and Spall’s largely silent, staring, numbed performance appears a tad theatrical, that’s no reason for worry, for Potter is making her first brave and for the most part very successful foray into a kind of dark satirical farce. As you might expect, hers is a comedy of contemporary socio-political manners, but it’s inflected here with a deliciously ironic touch as she probes and examines a range of human foibles. The characters may be recognisable ‘types’ – besides the politician, we have academics, a financier, an aromatherapist and so on – but they are never merely stereotypes, since Potter understands that people often don’t practise what they preach, and even when they do, what they’re preaching may be riddled with absurd contradictions and self-serving illogicalities.

    Could this be an allegorical portrait of British politics today? That may be pushing a metaphorical reading too far, though Potter has said that, writing the film during the 2015 general election, she wanted to evoke the kind of “chronic insincerity” she saw on display during the campaign. That said, what matters is whether the film’s critical portrait of a certain sector of modern British society succeeds dramatically and comedically; and with a deftly constructed, fast-moving real-time storyline, credibly vivid characters and deliciously barbed exchanges coming thick and fast, it unquestionably does.  

    Shooting in a studio over just two weeks, Potter benefitted from a small, well-chosen and excellent cast; in addition to Scott Thomas, Spall and Clarkson, she drew on the expertise of Cherry JonesEmily MortimerCillian Murphy and Bruno Ganz. Likewise, blues, rock, reggae, jazz, tango, Purcell and Paredes (not to mention some judiciously selected classical poetry) are put to wonderfully nuanced and eloquent service, exemplifying the highly detailed precision of Potter’s dramaturgy. If further proof of that were needed, how about a 71-minute running time? It races by without ever leaving us feel in any way short-changed; these days, that in itself is reason for praise.

    Geoff Andrew, Sight and Sound, 15th September 2017.


    What you thought about The Party

    Film Responses

    Excellent Good Average Poor Very Poor
    30 (57%) 18 (34%) 5 (9%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
    Total Number of Responses: 53
    Film Score (0-5): 4.47

    Collated Response Comments

    116 members and guests attended and 53 of you were kind enough to respond generating a hit rate of 46%.

    Our shorter than average film played exceptionally well at the Wilfred Noyce Centre, with 91% of responses citing the offering as Excellent or Good. There were a few observations about the venue and sound such as “Great film; shame about the venue.  Watching from almost the back of the bleachers, it's mighty disconcerting to have the picture so far in front and the sound so pointedly from the side (only). It made some of the dialogue, especially early on, while one was acclimatising, very difficult to hear - I missed a lot.  But once up and running the film was great: cleverly written, sharply acted and somewhat idiosyncratically shot, the B&W being the least of the oddities.  Curious choice of actors, specifically the Americans and German - why, I wonder?  But a lot packed into a short movie, which evidently divides people like Marmite, if the IMDB reviews are anything to go by.  I think I need to see it again”.

    The following reviewer clearly enjoyed the experience irrespective of the shortcomings in the venue and told us that they thought the film was “Lean and punchy with not a shot or line wasted there's more in this 71 minutes than most directors get into double that. Feeling like an up gunned and politicised Alan Ayckbourn, Stoppard or Frayn with extra acid for our beleaguered times this is played to the hilt by an A grade cast all at the top of their game. The black and white cinematography and claustrophobic set also further the stagey, febrile tension. Brutally funny, volley upon volley of one-liners, the best of which fall to the superb Patricia Clarkson, though she is possibly beaten to the best actor gong by Timothy Spall, a dead man sitting, listening to 'I'm a man' while his life evaporates in front of him.

    The ending provoked some comments “It was amazing how much Sally Potter managed to squeeze into the short film, every part of which seemed both relevant to our current politics in the UK and very amusingly put together. It helped to have such a strong cast. The only aspect that was not really right was the ending - too trite”. While others wrote; “I really enjoyed this film every actor was excellent and the twist at the end unexpected and very amusing!” “Witty, funny, well-paced. Nice twist at the end” and “Wasn’t sure where this was going but the ending was just brilliant”.

    “Well deserving of an excellent rating. What an enjoyable film. It felt more like an evening at the theatre, with a limited cast of strong characters and sharp, often very funny, dialogue as their evening unravelled in front of us. Refreshingly short and filming it in black and white was an inspired decision”. “A most enjoyable, rollicking if somewhat unrealistic comédie de moeurs”. “Great film. Very well written and well-acted. Everyone superb”. 

    “The perfect comment on our times”. “Brilliant script. Superb acting”. “Amazing dialogue; very clever”. “Very funny. Brilliant script”. “Clever, witty and savage. Great acting”. “Brilliant”.

    "Another one where I’m not in tune with the film world.  The photography was good, but the people rather clichéd and frankly not very likable; I felt like I was watching a PC version of an Alan Ayckbourn farce". 

    “Thank you for an interesting film shown last night and I would like to comment as follows: The highlight of the evening was showing this film at GFS to remember the acting career of Bruno Ganz who died in February 2019, whose excellent performance was intermittently played as a life coach in this film. This film made me ironically smile as the Celebration Party of Janet’s new role as a Cabinet Minster was over shadowed from the start by her supposedly loving relationship with her husband, who announced that he was dying as well as his passionately loving relationship with Marie for nearly 2 years together with their few friends adding sparkle to the party from there dreary lives.  The story of the film shot in black and white (colours of justice!) starring top performing actors/actresses, lacked connection between the cast and the story line until the end.  Sally Porter had an excellent template to exploit this story line with a top cast and film crew”.

    “A highly amusing & clever look at some members of the 'political class' whose lives unravelled during the film. Quirky and enjoyable”.

     “Oh how wonderful! So light and funny”. “Best of season so far”. “Well written, well-acted. More please”. “Very witty with wonderful performances from all the cast”. “Totally brilliant”. “Excellent. All life is a comedy”. “Thoroughly entertaining”. “Very well acted and full of black humour. Enjoyed the tension between the characters and the ending!” “Very enjoyable. The dialogue was like a theatre performance. Brilliant ending. The sound quality at the beginning was disappointingly poor”. “Quirky with laugh out loud moments”.

     “Wonderfully entertaining with a surprise twist finale. Loved the music too”. “Bruno Ganz and Cillian Murphy had an outstanding comedic partnership, lacking plot and purpose but very entertaining”. “Very different. Left me a bit speechless!” “Hard to hear and that is, to understand what was being said. Subtitles really essential for me. But clearly amusing”. “Very well acted. Unfortunately these characters really do exist in today’s broken politics. This party does not get my vote”. “Could have done with subtitles. Colour would have been better. Not very funny really”. “Clever!” “Quirkily funny and unexpected”. “Quite fun”. “Sound poor – not easy to follow”. “Hard to buy into – believe in their world”.



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