To celebrate her long-awaited prestigious post as a Shadow Minister for Health and, hopefully, the stepping stone to party leadership, the newly-appointed British opposition politician, Janet, is throwing a party for friends at her London flat. Of course, in this select and intimate soirée, apart from Bill--Janet's self-denying academic husband--a motley crew of elite hand-picked guests have been invited: There's April, the sourly cynical American best friend; her unlikely German husband, Gottfried; there's also Jinny and Martha; and finally, Tom, the smooth banker in the impeccable suit. But inevitably, before dinner is served, the upbeat ambience will shatter to pieces, as festering secrets will start surfacing in this perfect domestic war-zone. Undoubtedly, after this night, things will never be the same again.Written by
The middle-class dinner party in which the thin veneer of polite society is ripped away to expose the dog-eat-dog savagery underneath has provided ample fodder for playwrights since probably the birth of theatre, but films in which such a gathering is the sole focus are rarer. So step forward British auteur Sally Potter.
Having been appointed Shadow Minister for Health, Janet (Kristen Scott Thomas) and her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) throw a celebratory dinner party for their friends: the acerbic April (Patricia Clarkson) and (played by Bruno Ganz) her new age partner Gottfried ("prick an aromatherapist and you'll find a fascist" says April); lesbian professor Martha and her 'Masterchef' runner-up partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer), who is carrying their purchased foetuses ("babies are born every day, in large numbers - large enough to put our planet at risk" is April's unsentimental but accurate comment). Banker Tom (Cillian Murphy) arrives with his wife's apologies: she will be along later. Thus the stage is set, but when a champagne cork shatters a window it is an omen that this will be a dinner party none of the attendees will soon forget.
Trendy lefties who spend too much time thinking are an open goal when it comes to comedy, with their talk of 'post-post-feminism' and their professorships in Utopian Americanism, and Potter does not miss the target in her - I suspect affectionate - mickey-taking. There is nothing original in this - not even the 'twist' at the end - but the film is so entertaining that does not matter (with one exception: when banker Tom heads to the bathroom to snort cocaine I rolled my eyes - just once I would like to see a fictional young banker who *does not* have a coke habit: don't any of them simply put the kettle on?)
There is good acting all around: Clarkson gets all the best lines - albeit at the expense of depth of character - but that merely makes the others work harder with the lines they have been given. Thomas, whose character is the most fully-formed, is noteworthy.
At just over seventy minutes this is rather a short film. Quite why Potter decided to make it in black-and-white I do not know - extra filmsnob points I suppose. But it is hugely entertaining and I look forward to seeing it again. (After all, any film which lists in the credits 'production dog' *must* be good!)
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