Sally Potter's The Party is a wicked chamber piece, delightfully retro and highly contemporary.
Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) invites her friends over to celebrate her new job: Apparently, she has been appointed Minister of Health in a Labour government, but her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) is sitting in the living room in a monosyllabic funk and a mysterious lover keeps calling her cell.
The blunt-spoken April (Patricia Clarkson) is always squelching her partner, a touchy-feely German therapist (Bruno Ganz), and says their relationship is over. That is nothing compared to what the mournful Bill has to announce or the lesbian Jinny (Emily Mortimer), who has a big surprise for her older lover (Cherry Jones). Meanwhile the financier Tom (Cillian Murphy) shows up without his wife, looking sweaty and spooked.
With its claustrophobic unity of time and place, the disintegrating party feels highly theatrical and, of various classic screen adaptations from the stage, this wonderfully performed black-and-white film recalls in particular Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Yet also, Potter's comic dissection of the London intelligentsia's personal and political angst is completely of the moment.
The Party opens March 2 in Toronto.