Sally Potter’s The Party plays like an Agatha Christie drama without a murder. Which doesn’t mean — I tread carefully — there may not be a murder, at least at the tale’s edge or beyond. First image: Kristin Scott Thomas pointing a gun at the camera, at “us”, through her opened front door. Then we flashback two hours to the party’s start. A stream of well-labelled party guests — acid-witted Patricia Clarkson and her new-age-guru mate Bruno Ganz, lesbian couple Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer (pregnant with triplets), perspiring cokehead Cillian Murphy (with concealed shoulder gun) — pour into the Hampsteadish home.
Scott Thomas’s academician spouse Timothy Spall sits in the living room in a non-communicative daze. A wine glass in each hand, rising only to change records, he may be in shock from his wife Jan’s recent appointment as a shadow minister for health. Clarkson delivers a lumpy exposition-burger to unblock the script’s pipes — “Jan believes change is actually possible through parliamentary politics” — and then we’re off into a wordy frolic somewhere between Mike Leigh, Harold Pinter and Ms Christie. Can you be between three things? Yes. Here — family, infidelity, feminism, politics parliamentary and sexual — you can be between several.
The maker of Orlando, Gold and Ginger & Rosa crafts a 71-minute piece of fun with flickers of seriousness. The Party is sporting; always intelligent. Yet as comedy it’s never quite hilarious. And as drama it’s spotty, although dramatic things happen. Leigh would have been more humanly probing; Pinter more dark and antic. Instead we watch half a dozen gifted luvvies go at it, with a few dialogue zingers — “Scratch an aromatherapist and you find a fascist” (Clarkson on Ganz) — leaping up from the loose change of the chatterati.