Bill (Timothy Spall) sits in his living room listening to music at high volume and sipping a glass of wine; as he does so, he notes a fox sniffing around the patio doors, yet barely reacts as his wife Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) busies herself in the kitchen. She is celebrating because she has today been announced as Shadow Minister for Health, which marks her continuing rise up the political ladder, and with that in mind has invited a few friends around for some drinks and vol-au-vents, which she is preparing herself. However, as she receives calls on her phone to congratulate her, there's someone else who keeps contacting her - could it be that she has been carrying on an affair behind Bill's back?
The Party 2017 was not to be confused with the Peter Sellers comedy of the late nineteen-sixties, though this was intended to provoke laughter, it was a good deal more caustic in its effects as it took on the mores of the left of the political divide. Filmed in black and white, it took place in one house, as the Sellers movie had done, and also delineated the breaking down of the social niceties into chaos, but the sixties effort had been more to do with a letting down of hair, whereas this was more to do with letting down your nearest and dearest as we see when the two hosts and the five guests (with one on the way but delayed) encounter revelations that shake them to their very cores.
Many were wont to see Mike Leigh in this, as if writer and director Sally Potter was channelling his muse to craft a satirical look at the illusions her character were labouring under, but Leigh was less likely to be so overtly political; Potter was happy to send up her characters as if everything they believed when contrasted with the way they behaved revealed them to be utter hypocrites. She had assuredly assembled an excellent cast, each well-versed in stage craft therefore more than able to carry this sort of intense, and intensive, thespianism as if they were performing in a filmed play; there was a sixties television vibe to it, that sense of low budget small screen exploration underway.
No matter that Potter had opted to shoot in the Cinemascope ratio, presumably to say, it is a real film, honest, though in truth neither that frame nor the gleaming monochrome photography came across as anything but window dressing when it was what the partygoers said to one another that was the important thing. Bill obviously had something on his mind that was apart from his wife's success, and he would drop not one but two bombshells before the hour was up - the entire drama was about seventy minutes in length, including the end credits. But then, everyone in that house, once collected in one place, had a revelation to deliver, some more predictable than others, the pregnancy of Jinny (Emily Mortimer) for instance being easy to see, but not the fact she was carrying triplets thanks to fertility treatment.
She is the wife of Martha (Cherry Jones), one of Janet's associates, and also present were April (Patricia Clarkson, proving once again waspish was the best way to experience her) and her soon to be ex-boyfriend, the spacey Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), plus Tom (Cillian Murphy) whose wife is the delayed one and wastes no time in getting high on cocaine in the bathroom - he's also brought a gun. This lot were intended to expose the gap between the ideals of the Left and the reality of the deep divisions between even those who were supposed to be on the same side, the more liberal aspect of society seemingly more liable to find things to argue among themselves about instead of tackling their opponents, yet as this was released it was clear the Right were succumbing to that as well, confusing the political landscape and giving rise to a terrible uncertainty in the nation. Fair enough, there was comedy and drama to be mined from this, but The Party was just that bit too hysterical to convince; if it had built to a better punchline it might have satisfied more, but as it was, a decent enough piece for actor fanciers.
[Picturehouse's Blu-ray looks and sounds spiffing, with a million interviews as extras.]