As she's just been appointed Shadow Minister for Health, Janet (Scott Thomas) hosts a small get together for close friends and family to celebrate. But all is not well with the guests: something is up with hubby Bill (Spall), who sits in the main chair listening to blues and drinking heavily from a glass of wine; couple April (Clarkson) and Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) are on the verge of splitting up; Jinny (Emily Mortimer) is expecting triplets but partner Martha (Cherry Jones) isn't too sure about this next step; and a jittery Tom (Murphy) keeps darting off to the bathroom to snort another line and ready his gun…
A nominee for Best Film at this year's Berlinale The Party's brilliance is in its simplicity: three rooms (sitting room, kitchen, bathroom) a hall and a garden are the only locations in this small suburban house, the dialogue-driven story gets to the point pretty early, and it manages to cover a cornucopia of topics (feminism, jealousy, politics, and the power of positive thought among others) in its trim seventy-one minute running time. Despite the monochrome visuals it's a delightfully colourful piece - nasty, cynical but very funny, like the noisy neighbour of Polanski's adaptation of Carnage, and boasts some of the best performances from an ensemble cast you’ll see this year.
Writer-director Sally Potter (best known for 1992's Orlando but little-seen last effort Ginger and Rose is a gem) doesn’t allow the pace to flag, piling revelation on top of revelation as the story rockets to its surprise conclusion. And yet despite the brutal honesty on show there's mystery too: the first shot has a harried Janet open the door and point the gun at whoever is there. Is it Janet's secret lover who has been calling throughout? Tom's wife, suspiciously missing from all this? The police? Is it the audience? Potter keeps one guessing and the handheld camera moving, ratcheting up the tension with every available opportunity.
The dialogue, with its array of acerbic one-liners and barbed comments, is catnip for the impressive cast, who throw themselves into the chaos Potter cooks up with abandon. Ganz’s Gottfried is the focus for the shade Clarkson throws out but nothing seems to affect the ageing hippy who seems to have found a dimension of contentment despite the unfolding horror around him. Spall is rooted to the chair but his deep-rooted existentialism seems to infect those who hover around him. As strong as everyone is it's Clarkson that shines brightest. She's given the best lines, throwing out "sisterhood is a very ageing concept" and "I expect the worst of everyone in the name of realism" with the same nonchalance as one would ordering another latte.