BFI LFF: The Party (2017)

With a whipcracking script and a stellar cast, Sally Potter’sThe Party is an uproarious comedy with a nostalgic whiff.

War of the Words

by Mark Wilshin

The Party

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Harking back to the good old days of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party, Sally Potter’s The Party is a taut, crisply scripted and hilarious comedy, taking place entirely within the confines of Shadow Minister for Health’s Notting Hill garden flat. Newly appointed, Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) is holding a party for her nearest and dearest to celebrate. There’s Janet’s husband, university professor Bill (Timothy Spall), American socialite April (Patricia Clarkson) and her new age German boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), lesbian professor Martha (Cherry Jones) and her girlfriend Jinny (Emily Mortimer), and Tom (Cillian Murphy), a coke-snorting banker and the husband of Janet’s colleague Marianne.

It’s a collection of various perspectives, and knowingly so; idealist, realist, cynic, esoteric, feminist, animalist and the greedy representative of the status quo – as they call each other at one point. And while announcements are made and bombshells dropped, each archly gives their opinion. Formalistic in intention, but with great performances from all its leads, The Party is able to switch from comedy to pathos in the blink of an eye. For a while, The Party gets serious, and it’s tempting with its opening electric guitar strains of Jerusalem and its pro and contra on the National Health Service, to consider Potter’s film as a comment on contemporary Britain (minus Brexit). But Potter’s carefully honed script never lands on any budding storyline for long, preferring to jubilantly pit its ideologies against each to the death. A riotous comedy of quip and counter-quip, The Party rattles along at breakneck speed. And while it might not be exactly new, with its nostalgic score and monochrome look, Potter’s film is a welcome breath of old-fashioned air.

The Party premiered at the 67th Berlin Film Festival and screens at the 61st BFI London Film Festival on 10 and 11 October 2017.

BFI London Film Festival 2017

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