"The titular “party” of writer-director Sally Potter’s riotous tragicomedy is both a ghastly social function at which bourgeois lives unravel and the unnamed political opposition party through whose ranks Kristin Scott Thomas’s brittle antiheroine Janet ascends. She’s the newly appointed shadow health minister, a careerist idealist who believes in “truth and reconciliation” rather than shouting, punching and biting. Yet during the course of a single calamitous soiree, her right-thinking, left-leaning comrades will turn on themselves and one another in an increasingly farcical feeding frenzy. Indeed, when we first meet Janet, she’s pointing a gun at the camera, a harbinger of what’s to come in Potter’s short, sharp satire of love, politics and burnt vol-au-vents.
Potter’s first film since 2012’s Ginger & Rosa, The Party is an impressively lean affair, shot in a single location with few frills and no fuss – just an A-list cast at the top of their game. Potter looks toward Chekhov, Albee and Buñuel as inspirations, alongside such 60s Brit cinema classics as Karel Reisz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Bryan Forbes’s The L-Shaped Room. There’s a retro feel to Aleksei Rodionov’s handsome black-and-white cinematography, although the ease with which his camera waltzes around the cast lends a note of roving modernity, recalling the fluid poetry of Potter’s 2004 film Yes. Dance has always been central to Potter’s work (not just in The Tango Lesson), and there’s a real exuberance in the way she choreographs her players through the slapstick pirouettes and pratfalls of this vaguely absurdist romp. Meanwhile, Bill’s vinyl collection provides contrapuntal jukebox accompaniment, inappropriate records randomly selected with hilarious results.
Potter may not be thought of primarily as a comedic film-maker, but a sharp streak of humour runs throughout her features, dating back to her 1992 adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Just as Mike Leigh once joked that he simply wanted to make people laugh, Potter has always worked with a wry smile. In The Party – a shaggy dog story with a cannibalistic bite – that smile becomes a belly laugh."