Patricia Clarkson, Kristin Scott Thomas and Sally Potter talk The Party

Patricia Clarkson, Kristin Scott Thomas and Sally Potter talk The Party

It’s no surprise that small films often tackle the biggest ideas.

Take, for example, writer and director Sally Potter’s The Party, a real-time, black and white film that runs 70 minutes, takes place in a single house (just the main floor, actually), and features only seven actors.

Kristin Scott Thomas plays Janet, an opposition-party politician who’s throwing a party to celebrate her appointment as Britain’s Shadow Minister for Health at the home she shares with her husband Bill (Timothy Spall). Their guests are Tom (Cillian Murphy), an Irish banker, the intellectual lesbian couple Jinny (Emily Mortimer) and Martha (Cherry Jones), and Janet’s American friend April (Patricia Clarkson) and her soon-to-be-ex Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), a German life coach.

Throw in several surprise announcements, affairs, insecurities, a gun, and a whole lot of politics — the film’s title is a play on both “celebration” and “political affiliation” — and you get a tense but funny farce that earned rave reviews when it premiered at last year’s Berlin Film Festival.

“It was almost like doing a play actually, with the actors all together and the pressure,” says Scott Thomas, flanked by her fellow filmmakers during a press conference at the Berlin fest. “I was terrified actually because I thought we don’t know our words, we don’t know what we’re doing. It was a panic knowing that we had two weeks to shoot it and had very little rehearsal, and we had to get it right the first time because there was no room for multiple takes.”

Spall — whose character is virtually catatonic as the movie begins, quietly dealing with undisclosed personal problems — concurs. “It was a very intense and quick process. We came together and rehearsed, it felt very intense and then we shot very quickly. The whole thing, everybody in it was so consummate, there was no messing about.”

Potter, the British filmmaker best known for the sprawling 1992 fantasy Orlando, admits she created the movie as a sort of antidote to “massive budget films with millions of special effects.” She says those effects can be numbing, and that she wanted to create something more human. “Having it all in one place, that constraint was particularly freeing because it meant we could concentrate on what was important and not waste a load of time on what wasn’t important.”

She shot the film in black and white for a similar reason.

“Black and white gives this incredible space for emotional colour because we’re not distracted by apparent realism,” she says. “And somehow the magic of the fact that the brain can see things in a different way, but in an absolutely real way, in the abstract world of light and dark. The story was about extremes.”

The political core of the story is the issue of health care, not only because of Janet’s new position, but also because the characters, most of whom are left of centre politically, have their resolve to rely on state-funded medicine tested as health scares and opportunities to take advantage of the latest technologies crop up.

But no one gets away with hypocrisy for long with Clarkson’s April around. The most acerbic of the guests, she’s always ready with a dagger-sharp quip with which to deflate a fellow guest’s position on almost anything.

So it’s a good thing the relationships off-screen were warmer. “The camaraderie that we had as actors off-screen carried even through the wickedness of these characters,” insists Clarkson. “It was essential that we had a great sense of humour about ourselves, and we really quite fell in love with each other.”

And although the film took just a couple of weeks to shoot, and the rehearsal time was minimal, Murphy insists they came as prepared as possible. “Before we started shooting the picture Sally spent a lot of time with each of us individually working on the characters and sort of exploring and investigating where they lay in the story.”

The result? They arrived on set ready to rumble.

The Party hits theatres March 2nd. Watch the trailer below!