The film opens with Kristin Scott Thomas as Janet, pointing a gun at the camera. Rewind an hour or so, and we learn she’s the host of a dinner party, inviting friends round to celebrate her recent promotion to shadow health minister, and its a dinner party, we have already gathered, that is to eventually turn sour. Her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) is in a peculiar mood, not exactly one for conversation – but the arrival of garrulous April (Patricia Clarkson) ensures that not be a problem, alongside her partner, the free-spirited Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) who seems intent only on taking his shoes off and having a brief meditation. Then comes the arrival of partners Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer) – the latter ready to share the news she’s expecting triplets. A conversation topic that would usually take precedence over the evening – until Tom (Cillian Murphy) arrives, flustered, on cocaine, and with a gun in his pocket – and it’s one he intends on using.
Giving off the feel of a stage play, placed mostly in real-time, in a single location and with a small collective of performers, there can be parallels drawn to the Abigail’s Party, and Mike Leigh’s kitchen sink realism, so it’s no surprise to see Timothy Spall sign up to the project, and the actor adds a certain intensity to proceedings, so nuanced and engaging with it, in spite of the comedic approach. Conversely, the star of this show is Clarkson, as April feels as though she has been lifted right out of a Woody Allen ensemble piece, providing the majority of laughs, with every single zinger landing. The only criticism to be had concerning the actress, is that she doesn’t take centre stage.
But then none of them really do in this droll-witted chamber piece, and it’s a feature that does make for somewhat throwaway entertainment, and the idea that it feels like a film that was rather easy put together is a sentiment that lingers, as though Potter has returned back to basics with the sort of project you’d expect from a student honing their craft. But what a student would be without is that sharp dialogue, and the sheer talent of the cast assembled – and when you’re dealing with a film that carries an absorbing, accomplished screenplay, and several celebrated actors on hand to bring it to life, that’s generally enough to make for worthwhile trip to the cinema.