Dinner Party Blues

​Written by Jason Solomons

Kristin Scott Thomas opens the door to the dinner party from hell in Sally Potter’s The Party. You could call it entertaining. Scott Thomas plays Janet, a woman enjoying a career high, having just found out she’s been made shadow health secretary. To prove she can have it all and do it all, she’s throwing this soirée and doing the vol-au-vents herself.

Pity she’s too busy taking calls and flirtatious texts to notice husband Bill (Timothy Spall) getting quietly sozzled on the vin rouge in the lounge, playing his records way too loud – Bo Diddley’s blues anthem I’m A Man has never sounded more ironic. Bill looks lost, slumped, practically catatonic, were it not that he has to keep getting up to change his records. I can’t believe Janet lets him play Albert Ayler – no modal jazz allowed in my living room, I can tell you.

Maybe Janet doesn’t care any more. Her first guests are April and husband Gottfried, played by the witheringly brilliant Patricia Clarkson and the German legend Bruno Ganz. April appears to hate Gottfried and puts him down whenever he opens his mouth, though, granted, his new-age claptrap is rather insufferable. It certainly doesn’t do Bill any good. April thinks Janet will one day lead the country. Janet flutters with the flattery. Cillian Murphy bowls in, playing Tom, a city boy with a massive coke habit and gun. He apologises that ‘Marianne’ won’t make it until later, then goes and snorts another huge line in the downstairs loo.

Emily Mortimer and Cherry Jones arrive, as Jinny and Martha, a lesbian couple coming from the fertility clinic with good news. Well, Jinny thinks it’s good news, Martha looks a bit spooked. All is not well here. Secrets and long-festering resentments will be aired before the canapés as these characters fill us in on how they all know each other and how we all got to where we are now, which is waiting for a dinner that never arrives, a bit like Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, in Islington.

It’s both the pleasure and the problem of Potter’s bitter farce. As good as these actors are, they never say things real people say. Everything sounds like a clue, because everything’s heading to the big revelation we actually glimpsed right at the start, so it’s one big flashback, really.

I can’t say I liked any of these people – I assume I’m not supposed to, but that does make it hard to find a focus, even if we’re meant to recognise ourselves in them. They’re all a bit sketchy and bitchy and not particularly witty with it – the film only lasts 70-odd minutes, so it’s hardly a drag, but it’s not much of a night out, either. Though unlike the guests in The Party, at least you might get some dinner.