A very English play, this one. Written by Sally Potter and unfolding in real time, more or less, The Party of the title is a celebratory dinner with friends held by an up-and-coming politician and her husband. Billed as both comedy and tragedy, it was the impressive cast that prompted me to give it a whirl.
The film is in black and white. It opens with a view of the interior of an upper-middle class home in London or the suburbs. A man (Bill, played by Timothy Spall) makes a great production of placing a vinyl record onto the turntable and starting it playing. It’s Blues. It gives the impression of a period piece, maybe 1936, when the worst of the depression was over and Hitler wasn’t yet a threat. That impression stays for about two minutes, then the scene switches to the kitchen where a woman takes a call on her mobile phone and we suddenly realise we are in the present day. It’s a very clever way to frame a story in which social rules not really updated since the 30’s play such an important role.
I’m going to say very little about the plot because, while it’s not a whodunit, the secrets and surprises are what makes it fun. It unfolds more as drama than comedy. The humour is in how easily we recognise people we know in these characters, and even ourselves, while occasionally bizarre behaviour seems totally normal in context.
Kristen Scott Thomas shines as the politician whose star is on the rise even as her personal life is falling apart. Timothy Spall is her husband, a man who has left fixing what’s wrong in his life too late. Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer are a lesbian couple with an apparently perfect relationship, while the relationship between April and Gottfried (Patricia Clarkson and Bruno Ganz) is far from perfect. Cillian Murphy is the token American, a banker with a cocaine problem who arrives with breathless promises that his wife will show up in time for desert.
It is a short film, only about 70 minutes long. I had expected a comedy and while there were moments of levity and farce I was feeling a little cheated when suddenly, out of the blue, it ended. As the credits rolled I sat, frozen, not quite sure what to make of the ending. And then I laughed.