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Dinner party starts from scratch

Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall and Cillian Murphy are among the star names as director Sally Porter serves up an often hilarious but sometimes annoying tragi-comedy

12 October, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Timothy Spall as Bill, at his old-school record deck in The Party

Directed by Sally Potter
Certificate 15

THIS film is too well stocked with British cinema darlings to be anything but a success: it feels like you must be missing something if you manage to find fault in a film written and directed by Sally Potter, and starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Cherry Jones, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Bruno Ganz and Cillian Murphy.

But Potter reaches peak middle class with this often hilariously but sometimes annoying tragi-comedy. It feels written for stage, and has a theatrical element of hamminess about it, especially as the scenario relies on a clash of a large number of life changing elements to be crammed into 71 minutes, as if it were an emotional version of the Large Hadron Collider and Potter is sending feelings smashing into one another at the speed of light.

We meet Janet (Scott Thomas) as she is preparing a soiree for close friends to celebrate her elevation to the post of shadow health minister in what we assume is a Labour opposition (it’s not said, but very much implied: however, she is no certainly no Mo Mowlam. Instead, she has that arrogant air of a career politico).

Her husband, Bill (Spall), is sitting dejectedly in the sitting room, playing through his trendy old-school record deck a mixture of John Lee Hooker and Ernest Ranglin, while clasping a large glass of red wine… he stares ahead of him, morosely, and the question must be asked why he is not joining in the joyousness of the occasion, as his wife puts on the vol-au-vents next door and answers her phone every two seconds to take the plaudits of friends and colleagues.

A motley collection of friends wander in: April (Clarkson) an acid-tongued old chum and her ridiculous boyfriend, Gottfried (Ganz) who tells us he is a healer and life coach – much chortling here. Then there is the handsome banker boyfriend of missing colleague Marianne, around whom much of the plot hinges. Gay couple Jinny (Mortimer) and Martha (Jones) bring their own news to share, and own issues to work though.

It is very funny at times. But it also has that thing where it feels too much like it will primarily be enjoyed by smug, middle-class people laughing at smug-middle class people. Still, one-liners come fast and coming in under 80 minutes, makes for condensed and intense storytelling.

Despite this being a party you don’t want to be invited to, it’s a laugh to be a fly on the wall, even if you cringe both with the cast – and occasionally at them.


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