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Bishops Castle Film Society

The Party - 26 Sept 2018

dir. Sally Potter. UK 2017, 72m

‘Five minutes into Sally Potter’s brisk, coruscatingly witty farce The Party, a disillusioned former activist named April arrives at a dinner party to celebrate her oldest friend’s appointment as shadow health minister, and describes the new politics as “postmodern, post-post-feminist”. It’s a clue to the film’s stakes: this is a comedy that bites because it is utterly and urgently of our moment. With the intelligence and generosity that are the hallmarks of Potter’s writing and direction, it issues its challenge of big ideas through superb performances: with the verve of a musician, Patricia Clarkson, as April, wraps her lips around the many zingers she delivers. Updating a long-running British tradition of cloaking scathing political insights with social comedy (the party refers to both ‘dinner’ and ‘Labour’), the film plays out like an extended version of the salon scene in Potter’s Orlando (1992), in which Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift trade insults disguised as witticisms. Except that here, in the 21st century, it’s the female characters who are making all the running. The Party taps into cinema’s long and complex relationship with theatre with levity and dexterity, as we see not only in the reference to Albee’s 1962 play (and Mike Nichols’s 1966 film) but also in Marianne’s turn as Godot. The film’s title tips its hat to Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party and the Play for Today TV dramas that transferred the energy of live theatre to the living room in the 1970s and early 80s. Like Alain Resnais in his Alan Ayckbourn adaptations, Potter finds an insistently cinematic language for and through the energy of farce, risking fisheye shots that satirise the deep seriousness with which the characters treat themselves. Beneath all the verbal brilliance are constant reminders of the chaotic nature of the body as it upsets logic and rationality, seen particularly in Murphy’s wired performance as Tom and Mortimer’s portrayal of the pregnant Jinny.’ (So Mayer, BFI Website, 17 October 2017)


‘Director Sally Potter’s eighth film, The Party, is yet another reinvention for the 68-year-old who constantly surprises by changing genre, medium and style. This one is a riotous comedy, shot in black and white, that viciously pokes fun at the centre ground politics and attitudes of the left. “I always think it’s time for a change,” Potter tells me in a London hotel. “I’m not interested in repeating myself, what excites me is taking some risks. In this case, the risk was the risk of comedy.” She then jokes, “Although I think Orlando was a comedy.” It’s also true that her film Rage, set in the fashion world, also has comedic elements, but this is the first film where she is gunning for laughs. Potter says she began writing the film “around the time of the election between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. A time when politics had all moved into the centre and nobody seemed to be telling the truth about anything. Principals were abandoned for votes, so it became spin land and untruth land, so I thought it was time to take a savage look at that.” This is the middle-class England of the idealistic, democracy respecting left – people who have been on the anti-war marches and believe they are doing good. The house is nice, bookshelves burdened by books, but once you get to the bathroom the wallpaper is peeling and the taps are dripping. Every choice about the character and their behaviour was made with the following in mind: “This is not about wealth, it’s about cultural privilege.” For Potter the term “cultural privilege” is important. It’s different from white privilege because Potter sees privilege being tied in with access and class: “It’s a look at unconscious privilege. It’s importance to get the nuance right in such a class-driven society as England. I say England, advisedly, rather than Scotland or Wales.” The director argues that there is one sure fire way of discovering the truth about people: “It’s in crisis situations that people’s true colours start to show.” So it doesn’t take long for the drama to be heightened as the film blitzes through this tale in 71 brutal, whip-cracking minutes.’ (Kaleem Aftab, The Independent, 12 October 2017)



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