The Party

I was always in the kitchen at parties, hiding behind the pots, avoiding the pot, the fun and laughter and the people getting off with each other. And I was all set to hate The Party.  A few years ago, I went to see Transformers 9:  Revenge of the Batteries with my son and I said to him that it was a film designed for teenage boys – just like you, I said. When I told him I was going to see The Party, he said ‘it’s a film for people like you’. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, eh?

People like me, then: beyond middle age, comfortably middle-class, pretentious, vaguely intellectual, naturally left-wing, a fan of black and white films and Woody Allen (before the fall), good food, wine, Kristin Scott Thomas (so radiant and distant in The English Patient – until she died), stage plays, jazz, linen, beards, record players and amplifiers (remember them?), vol-au-vents (do people still eat vol-au-vents?), wooden floors and rugs, book-cases over-flowing with books,  occasional acerbic wit, a knowing and rather tiresome cynicism. And all the better for it.

The Party – written and directed by Sally Potter – is a short film, set in the three rooms (living room, kitchen, bathroom) and garden of a newly appointed Secretary of State for Health – Karen – played by Scott-Thomas, and her tired, drunken, crumpled, stubbled professor husband played by Timothy Spall, and it charts the shattering events which occur during a dinner party held to celebrate her new role. As such, it is really a stage play or a Play for Today masquerading as a film. The other characters are April, a wonderful, world-weary embittered performance by Patricia Clarkson, her partner Gottfreid (Bruno Ganz – Downfall seems a long time ago), Martha and Jinny – two central casting lesbians played by Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer, Tom (Cillian Murphy), a cocaine snorting ‘banker wanker’ (bankers are always portrayed as cocaine snorting – they can’t all be, can they?) and Mary-Anne, Tom’s wife who (no plot spoiler here), is never seen.

It is a tragi-comedy which passes the (short) time not unpleasantly. If not perhaps quite as clever, witty, acerbic, cynical or sharp as it likes to think it is, that is not the fault of the actors who are uniformly excellent (although Timothy Spall over-acts wildly). There are some very funny lines, although not quite as many as the beyond middle-age, etc, etc, audience that I saw it with thought there were.

The ending is sudden, sharp and surprising and leaves some loose ends where they should be – loose. It is hard to care much about the characters, none of whom are likeable (with the possible exception of April) and so their ghastly middle class tragedy leaves not a scar as you drift into the night and home to some soft jazz and a nice glass of Merlot.

I guess my son was right; it’s a film for people like me and I rather enjoyed it.

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