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"Play for Today" Abigail's Party (1977)

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18 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

Painful & hilarious & agonising

Author: Marty-G from San Jose, CA
15 March 1999

Wow. Abigail's Party - and I am the first person to comment on it? This is certainly an interesting film. In parts it's riotously funny... I mean laugh-out-loud funny... the characters are all obnoxious (except perhaps Sue) with traits that'll make you thank the Lord that they are not your neighbours or friends. The tension just rises and rises through the film... you know it's building up to something big... by the end though it's damn depressing. You hate these characters, you want to shout at them! But the acting is brilliant. Alison Steadman's Beverly full of clichés and tartiness, with a voice that gives you the creeps. Tim Stern (Laurence), the hen-pecked husband, an uptight little weasel and an intellectual snob. Angela (Jane Duvitski), weak and ineffectual, annoying as hell, easily-led, yet comes through the whole thing with more strength than the others. John Salthouse as Tony is a magnificent character, you can feel his anger brewing underneath this quiet exterior. And then there's Susan, played by Harriet Reynolds, whose unseen daughter Abigail is the one having the party. Sue's the one who gets thrown in with all these misfits... poor thing. The setting is claustrophobic, the humour is full on, sometimes though it just gets a little too nasty for words, and leaves a rather bittersweet taste. Funny it may be but it's a bloody painful ride, and though it's looking seriously dated, it's still a fascinating piece of work.

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16 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

A British TV Gem

Author: Colin Wilson from Seattle, USA
27 February 2000

I saw this first time round, and it's a once seen/never forgotten experience. Yes, THAT good. The TV version has the feel of the stage play it was, with all the action taking place in the living room of the obnoxious Beverly and her equally obnoxious husband.

In the first few seconds, Beverly, expecting the arrival of her guests, puts on the Donna Summer record Love To Love You Baby (which SHE likes, to hell with what the guests might like). Only it isn't Donna Summer, but one of those cheap 49 pence Woolworth cover version albums so prevalent in the seventies. Immediately, the mood is set.

The amazing thing about this play is that one feels throughout that one is intruding on what one should not be seeing. There is definitely that fly on the wall feel, but just try and look away. This is compelling viewing, no matter how far your eyes widen - and they will - as things progress. Even the more subtle touches (such as Angie's tight necklace, with the heart pendant that bobs up and down as she speaks) add light humor to the pervasive dark humor. There are too many classic moments in this one-off to even list, that good it is. This is a British TV gem.

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13 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Hilarious and horrific in equal measure

10/10
Author: Red-Barracuda from Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
30 September 2009

Mike Leigh's teleplay Abigail's Party is a character driven portrait of life in the suburbs in 70's Britain. It's about a drinks party hosted by a couple called Beverley and Laurence, attended by guests Ange and Tony, who have newly moved into the street, and Susan, a neighbour whose teenage daughter Abigail is having her own party at her house that same evening.

This is a party from hell. Beverly and Laurence are two of the most appalling hosts imaginable. While she is overbearing and ignorant, he is highly-strung and pretentious. They are two sides of the same coin though; where she likes throwaway pop music he likes classical, where she is fond of tacky erotic art he prefers fine art. At least Beverly's taste seems genuine, Laurence appears to choose things that makes him feel superior but it all seems purely for show, like his collected works of Shakespeare on which he enthuses about the quality of the jacket material, the contents he describes hilariously as unreadable. As the night progresses this pair of idiots battle amongst themselves in front of their guests creating umpteen squirm-inducing moments. The guests themselves are not much better. Ange is simple-minded and irritating, her husband Tony, taciturn and aggressive, while the third guest, the divorcée Susan, is stiff and stand-offish. Together they have the sort of chemistry that ordinarily in life comes with a toxic warning label.

Class is at the heart of much of the drama. Beverly and Laurence are a middle class suburban couple; Ange and Tony represent the lower-middle class, while Susan inhabits the upper-middle. Part of Beverley's reasoning behind the party is to induct Ange and Tony into her social strata. The latter couple are new to the street and seem to be from a lower income bracket; this allows Beverley to patronizingly take Ange under her wing. Susan, on the other hand, does not need to work as she is supported by her architect ex-husband and while she inhabits a level that Beverly aspires to, she clearly is not a happy woman. She still appears to be traumatized by her divorce and she seems to be very self-conscious in company. Although her discomfort in this social gathering does provide the audience with an identification figure of sorts, as most people would feel thoroughly uncomfortable in this car crash of a get-together.

Alison Steadman is tremendous as Beverly. This extremely well-crafted comic character is the dark soul of Abigail's Party. She is alternately fawning and unpleasant, but always selfish. She bullies her guests into doing exactly what she wants at all times, from insisting that everyone listen to the tacky music of Demis Roussos to forcing Ange and Tony to take cigarettes despite the fact they both are in the process of giving up. She forcefully prevents Susan from leaving to check on her daughter despite fuelling the flames of her paranoia by tactlessly implying that the kids would be running riot next door. Alison Steadman nails this character in a way that is firmly believable, she never descends into caricature. The rest of the cast are generally impressive too, the other standout being Janine Duvitski's portrayal of Ange. Through her various bits of inane dialogue, and her husband's gruff responses, she allows the audience to read between the lines and work out that her marriage is a terrible one but like Beverly she is no one-dimensional caricature, as by the end of the film she is the only character who really comes to the fore and ends the piece with any credit. Well-written dramas often confound expectations in this way.

One of the things I love about Abigail's Party is that it's a real period piece. The fashions, décor and music all scream 1977. But the drama is timeless, as the people are believable and the comic moments still subtly effective. It's the skillful mix of comedy with believable drama that is ultimately the key to its enduring success. The film ends in a very dark tone indeed, with the seemingly strong characters becoming weak and vice-versa. This tragicomedy doesn't play by conventional expectations and perhaps this is partly why it's so good.

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11 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

A modern classic that explores the social deficiencies of the aspiring middle classes in the 70's...

10/10
Author: Tom from London
15 April 2001

Abigail's party is a tremendous piece of drama that was originally developed through a process of improvisation. It is hilariously funny but at the same time deeply moving and the tension created on stage is amongst the most painful I have ever witnessed. Mike Leigh, as a director, clearly has an amazing ability to achieve fantastic performances from his actors. The play, about an awkward drinks gathering, hosted by the atrocious Beverley (Alison Steadman), explores the intricacies of the social order in Britain and the pretentious aspirations of the lower middle class. With a heavy dose of Demis Rusoss, quite a few Gin an' Tonics, a cheesy pineapple stick and a dramatic climax - Abigail's Party is a much-watch. It may be a little dated but it still has a cult following and I hear that people today hold Abigail's Party parties:- So it must be good!

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8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

No real plot... but so compelling!!

9/10
Author: wilywilliam from London England
11 April 2003

I reckon that this is the sort of movie that gets film students all excited. There are so many levels to this flick that you could probably go on for days pulling apart and examining the different characters, relationships and commentaries. But I recommend you watch this film purely for entertainment purposes - it's great. The actors are believable, the story is simplistic (yet so effective) and the period touches are great - because this is essentialy a period drama (the period being very firmly in the 1970s). For a film to have such little plot yet remain so compelling is testament to each and every element that makes up this movie. Watch it.

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8 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Gin--Vodka--Brandy!

9/10
Author: algoyo from United Kingdom
30 June 2008

The best bit (for me) is when Beverley is putting on Donna Summer's "Love to Love You" and fixing herself a drink at the beginning of the play. She puts the needle on the record and at the same time she opens the drinks cabinet's sliding door directly above her head with her spare hand in a smooth, perfectly performed robotic motion. She then sits to consume her drink and, with the look of a Basilisk, surveys her domain. It is her appearance which really startles. Her red dress is of the finest polyester, but exposes her flesh in unflattering ways. She sometimes looks like a jellyfish, with the tendrils flapping away, or like some monster who has made a dress out of the leftover bits of red meat of her victims. Either way, you are in no doubt that Beverley is the hostess with the mostest. You know you are in for trouble when her husband Lawrence comes in and she pipes up "Hi". It's done in such a dissatisfied, unloving way, that you can see she's going to kill him one way or another.

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7 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

What A Great Play!

9/10
Author: horseyfly_91 from London, England
22 September 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I am currently taking drama as a gcse subject, and this was a play that we had to watch on t.v in a lesson for our coursework. First of all, the whole class thought it would be rubbish and really boring, but how wrong we were! The film is completely brilliant!! Its, cringing and painful to watch at times, others you want to slap at the characters or shout at them but mainly you're rolling around in laughter! Watching this film was definitely a time well spent, and I can't wait until we see it in the theatre! All the characters are completely annoying in their own way, but no one can top Beverly's squeaky voice, and Tony's violent outbursts! This is definitely a play to recommend!!

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5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

A jump into the Seventies

Author: Elena Prati from Bologna, Italy
27 February 2003

Watching Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party is like jumping into the past in the Seventies, when the play takes place. It's about a supposedly enjoyable party that soon becomes a hilarious and tragic disaster. And all is due to the ambition of being part of the middle class. The play is a portrait of people of that time, but nonetheless its themes are really up-to-date. For example, everything and everyone must be at Beverly's command so you can guess that it is unsafe to be victims of the desires of people like the cold-hearted Beverly, because events could take the wrong turn. This charming film is blessed with very talented actors who develop very peculiar characters. I really recommend it because it is clever thanks to the analysis of social reality and at the same time you can enjoy yourself with a good laugh.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Absolutely wonderful, but it made me cringe

10/10
Author: helenandbrian from Hove, England
8 November 2010

My parents had told me about this many times in the past, but last night when it was back on television was the first time I had ever seen it.

How fantastic! Classic Mike Leigh - incredibly funny, but at the same time really dark. A very British comedy - the idea that as the plot progresses, the knives are out and everyone's character is slowly assassinated. It's what we Brits do so well (if it's actually something of which to be proud!) - comedy that rejoices not just in others' misfortune, but ultimately in their total psychological destruction.

And what relentlessly horrible characters! There were times when it made me cringe so much, I had to leave the room.

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

love it or hate it you'll never forget it

10/10
Author: magicwand444 from United Kingdom
16 October 2007

i was an avid watcher of 'play for today' because the next day at work everybody would talk about it.in the case of abigail's party people still talk about it now.

when the wonderful alison steadman created the social climbing hostess beverly,she created a monster.as she strutted her stuff we cringed.her awful taste in music,her walking all over her husband,her unsubtle attempts to seduce tony,her thanking sue for the bottle of red wine and putting it in the fridge.

when the play was re-screened two years later it captured an audience of 16 million.it has since become a favourite for brave amateur drama groups.my favourite story concerning this is the group that decided to stage the play and use real alcoholic drinks-they never made it to act 2.

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