Sally Potter's The Party is a slim 75 minutes of dinner-party farce, like Bunuel meets Moliere, grounded in Chekhov -- there's literally a gun introduced in the first act. Upon the occasion of Janet's (Kristin Scott Thomas) ascension to the head of the British National Health Service, her small group of friends and colleagues join her for dinner. The guests are all embroiled in their own dramas, which all reach their own boiling points as the party implodes in rage, tears and declarations that democracy is dead. Potter isn't what you'd call subtle, but she also knows not to overstay her welcome, and this pithy comedy is a masterclass in all that a filmmaker can squeeze from the most basic theatrical concept: Put a bunch of characters with opposing motivations in a room and see what happens.
Janet's husband Bill (Timothy Spall) is the first act's silent powder keg. While Janet is in the kitchen making her own victory dinner, Bill is sipping wine, so entranced that when the couple's friends April (Patricia Clarkson) and Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) arrive, Bill is so distracted he can barely remember his own name and declares it doesn't matter anyway. He's cryptic in his dialogue, hinting he holds a secret. Spall may play the powder keg, but Clarkson's April holds the honor of lighting the fire, with theatrical dialogue, decrying the inefficiency of parliamentary politics and accusing her own faith-healer boyfriend of being a secret fascist.
Potter's project is to examine classic structures that have been ingrained in theater and now film for centuries. She's hitting us over the head with her tap shoes again with The Party, but it's altogether dizzying fun.