It’s not often that film and theatre can coalesce together. Many such projects result in a story with too many wide-angle lenses and overly complicated blocking (which last year’s Fences suffered from). Sally Potter’s latest feature is different. The Party unfolds as a stage-play and preserves a cinematic syntax.
Set entirely within one house over 70 minutes, politician Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) is throwing a party to celebrate her recent appointment as the shadow health minister – inviting all her close, intellectual comrades. In the sitting room, Janet’s husband Bill (Timothy Spall), who has been unusually silent, announces to everybody that he has a terminal illness. Janet’s world crumbles as Bill reveals more devastating truths.
The Party is a claustrophobic experience. Potter has created seven characters, in close quarters over such a short time. This friction inspires the film’s funniest scenes, as well as the most heartbreaking. The Allenesque dialogue is full of sumptuous intellectual debate on faith, feminism, and political anarchy. Intellectualism is often at odds with emotion, to the point where Bill’s terminal illness turns into a debate about the National Health Service. By the end, the rational is sacrificed for the irrational.
Potter’s movie boasts a great cast, and all the actors work well within a stagey environment. Scott Thomas as the protagonist gives the most conflicted performance, but it’s Spall who steals the show. His character says as little as possible, but Spall creates an intensely somnambulant demeanour that’s both hilarious and tragic to watch.
The Party doesn’t succeed in all it’s aestheticisms – particularly the choice to shoot in black-and-white, which appears more as a gimmick than a motivated device, and the abrupt ending suggests that the director had a lot more to say. But The Party contains the kind of experimental innovation and spontaneity expected in a debut film. It’s a testament to Sally Potter that, even after eight movies, she still wields the power to surprise.
The Party is released in nationwide on 13th October 2017.
Watch the trailer for The Party here: