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Abigails Party is a classic BBC comedy drama and even though it was released well before I was born as it came out in the late seventies it was recommended to me and it is a brilliant bit of entertainment.
It is all about a party that is set in the middle of suburbia, all of the action takes place in the living room and it is a wonderfully scripted piece of entertainment which is all about manners and social etiquette.
The couple who are hosting the party are Beverley, played by the quite excellent Alison Steadman and Lawrence who is played by Tim Stern. She is a bit of a social snob and strives to be the ultimate host however the more intoxicated she becomes the more her behaviour gets worse and tests the patience of her long sufferring husband.
The first guests are Angela and Tony, she is rather pathetic and mousey while he is in a bad mood as he does not want to be there however he soon becimes the object of drunk Beverleys desires. The final guest is Sue whose daughter Abugail is having a party at her house hence the reason for this little gathering which begins to turn nasty as the alcohol flows.
Angie is played by Janine Duvitski while John Salthouse plays Tony and finally Sue is played by Harriet Reynolds. I love the flow of the conversations in this film, there is an under current of tension in everything that is said, Beverley is a dominating over bearing character and she and Tony both come across as bullies to their respective partners, some of the things Beverley will come out with will have you cringing at times.
Some of the humour is bitingly funny and this serves to remind you that once upon a time there were actually some excellent plays on TV that did not rely on special effects or sex and violence but the strength was in the performances and the dialogue.
I certainly recommend this and a copy can be obtained from Amazon for £4.97 which is a bargain.
An adaptation of a Mike Leigh play, Abigail's party (1977) is now heralded as a cultural classic with some great social commentary and superb acting performances. It is essentially a satire on the emergence of a new middle class in 1970s England and the subsequent anxieties to do with meeting the necessary aspirations and goals that entails.
The film starts as a light-hearted highly dialogue driven comedic piece, but soon becomes a more serious and situational drama.
The cameras never leave the confines of the house in which Abigail is holding her awkward party of just several uneducated, pretentious and often downright ignorant people, making fools of themselves and berating and embarrassing one another, but the conversation soon begins to turn vicious and venemous, and the fixed camera angles and small house really make the film feel highly claustrophobic as the tension begins to rise.
Most people can relate to at least one of the characters, whether they identify with them personally, or feel they know someone who shares some of their inherently flawed character traits. A lot of the entertainment is derived from its strong social relevance, particularly of the time it was made. The characters are strong and realistic, if something of a parody of themselves, their cringeworthy comments often stunningly unbelievable.
This element of character comedy, coupled with the strong gaudy sense of 70s style, in both fashion and decor, not only allow older people to reminisce about the period, but also make the film feel very earthy.
It is an important piece of social commentary, still very much a play, rich in charm and realism. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in 70s culture.
Stars Allison Steadman.
Runtime: 100 minutes
Adapted from Mike Leigh's 1977 stage play, Abigail's Party was shown later in 1977 on our TV screens as a "Play For Today" offering.
Beverly (Alison Steadman)
Laurence (Tim Stern)
Angela (Janine Duvitski)
Tony (John Salthouse)
Sue (Harriet Reynolds)
I am primarily concentrating here on the TV play of Abigail's Party, as sadly I never got the chance to see the stage version. I believe a DVD of the play was released four or five years ago, and I would imagine it is the exact replica of the 1977 TV showing.
One evening, Beverly decides to hold a little social gathering, and invites her new neighbours, Angie and Tony, together with Sue from next door. Sue's daughter Abigail is having her first teenage party, and has expressed her wishes for Sue to be absent for the duration of the party (we never actually get to see Abigail in the play, although the thundering music of the party next door can be clearly heard).
The first scene is in a typically kitsch 1970s all-mod-cons living-room having an open plan design through to the dining room and kitchen, with Beverly, dressed to kill in a rather revealing little red number, with hair and makeup immaculate, dripping jewellery. She relishes spending a few moments alone, and puts Donna Summer's "Love To Love You Baby" on the record player - pours herself a stiff drink, lights a cigarette, and performs a swaying dance to the music. Her little moment of indulgence is shattered by husband Laurence crashing through the front door, stressed from his day's work as an estate agent, and he picks up the phone, dials furiously, and continues his work outside of the office - much to Beverly's annoyance. She nags him about bringing his work home, and is even more despairing when he tells he he has to quickly go out and pick up some keys from someone vacating a property, and as Laurence dashes out of the house, Beverly reminds him yet again to pick up some lagers for the evening.
It is obvious right from the beginning of the play that there is a lot of tension between bored housewife Beverly and the very stressed-out Laurence.
The other three guests (Angie, Tony and Sue) arrive, Laurence manages to get back from his client and the off licence in one piece, and the social get-together commences.
I don't want to give away what actually happens to anybody who hasn't seen Abigail's Party yet wants to, suffice it to say that as the evening wears on and those present get drunker and drunker, things become incredibly unpleasant to the point where the play is (though very amusing in parts) almost uncomfortable to watch. You will be squirming in your seat with a strange kind of embarrassment as the characters gradually unfold and show their true selves....the tension builds and builds, right up to a spectacular and rather disturbing finale.
So, as I don't want to spoil the plot, I will below give my own synopsis on the five characters in the play.
Ex beauty consultant who is a very attractive lady to look at in a vampish sort of way. She is a frustrated, bored housewife who though she loves the money he brings in, has very little respect for her husband Laurence. Beverly is a "chav" of the worst kind, and surrounds herself with trashy art, trashy music and has little or no true sensitivity to anyone or anything else around her.......but, she believes herself to be the exact opposite. She probably deep down is a very unhappy lady, but displays levels of spitefulness which hold no bounds. Beverly constantly belittles Laurence, flirts outrageously with Tony (Angie's husband) talks down to people, and is a total control-freak. When push comes to shove at the end of the play, she puts on a spectacular display of self-centred neurosis that is most unpleasant, yet pure magic to watch.
Laurence is a very stressed-out estate agent who is totally embroiled in his work, much to Beverly's despair. He has pretentions towards being appreciative of good music, good art etc., but in his way is just as much of a philistine as Beverly. Laurence is taut and tense throughout the whole play, and isn't above passing some very sarcastic remarks towards Tony who Beverly is flirting outrageously with. Judging by the way he casts sidelong looks at Beverly, it seems that he is extremely fond of her, despite her being the bitch from hell towards him. Laurence tries so very hard to inject a little bit of culture into the evening, but is castigated heavily for his attempts. Quite frankly, Laurence really is out of the bag labelled "boring git", and in that sense we can allow ourselves to feel just a tiny bit sorry for Beverly, even though her way of dealing with it is monstrous.
Nurse Angie and her husband Tony are a little younger than Beverly and Laurence, and since recently moving to the area, Angie was approached in a neighbourly fashion by Beverly, and the two of them made friends. Angie is off with the fairies, pleasant natured but incredibly naive and gullible. She gets the chance to practice her very questionable nursing capabilities a couple of times during the evening, and treats the others to a little song called "Buy A Broom", totally killing off all rational conversation in the process. Angie means well, but misses the target completely and is a major source of irritation to her husband Tony. The drunker Angie gets, the bolder she becomes with standing up to Tony, but he ultimately has the upper hand. She does try and pour oil on troubled waters when the tensions rise high, but ends up making things worse as her guilless persona gives her a very bad case of "foot in mouth" syndrome.
Quiet, observant and initially polite, Tony sits and watches from his little corner seat. He seems to take an instant dislike to Laurence, and at first is wary of Beverly's rather overt advances towards him, but as the evening wears on and the drink takes hold, he relaxes a little and responds to her. Angie seems not to mind Beverly flirting with Tony in a big way, but Laurence is hurt and incensed. Tony shows some fairly brutal, yet subtle undertones to his personality during the evening, and when everything gets way way out of hand, he is the only one who can remain level-headed.
Sue is a divorcee with two teenage children, the eldest of which (Abigail) is going through a phase of being a punk, and is having her first party at home next door. Sue is a shy, seemingly old-fashioned and rather introverted lady who appears slightly depressed, and is constantly nervous and worried about what her daughter is getting up to in the next house. The evening is agony for Sue as she watches the others get more and more embroiled in bitching, little slanging matches and trying to outdo one another. Ever nervous throughout the whole scenario, Sue seems as if she is the most sensible one present, but proves of little use when things get seriously out of hand.
This play is a sheer, utter masterpiece, along with pretty much all else of Mike Leigh's offerings.
As uncomfortable as Abigail's Party is to watch, you will be riveted to the screen from the very first opening scene, to the very last. I remember at the time when I saw this back in 1977, the following day at work, everybody who had seen it just couldn't stop talking about it.
I think the whole cast of five people deserve accolades of the highest order for their supremely skilful acting. Quite a lot of the script was ad-libbed, the actors working around the basic storyline which Mike Leigh invented.
Do give this a watch. You will be amused, embarrassed, shocked, annoyed and thoroughly entertained.
Abigails Party was originally a play by Mike Leigh and is now considered a classic both as a play and as a film. To be truthful the film does not move the play into any wider scenery. All the action takes place at a party in a suburban house. The narrow confines of the house only serve to heighten the dramatic potential as there is no escape for the characters from the situation.
Now I am sure many of us have been to a party at which someone behaves badly. There can be a delicious pleasure in seeing someone make a fool of themselves or make a fool of someone else. The embarrassment caused can keep you going on gossip for weeks and you learn far more about people than you ever admitted you wanted to know. The beauty of Abigails Party is that these are ordinary people just like you and me.
The performance of Alison Steadman in the role of Beverley is simply fantastic. If Meryl Streep or Julia Roberts were to give a similar performance and the film was made in Hollywood then an Oscar nomination at least would beckon. Her sexy provocative dancing only serves to embarrass her host Susan and infuriate Beverleys husband Lawrence. The dialogue and acting are excellent as Leigh explores the affects Beverleys behaviour has on the people in the room. There is a real feeling of the discomfort and unease that characters feel. The conversations are stilted and yet say so much. As Beverley consumes more drink and begins to enjoy the discomfort so she becomes more outrageous until well....
Having been filmed in the 1970s Abigails Party has a very dated look about it. However the quality of the film sustain it and the relevance of the themes mean it is still watchable. It will be Beverleys behaviour making you cringe, not the film.
When choosing what film to watch from my DVD rental subscription, I came across ABIGAIL'S PARTY. To be honest, I wasn't very interested, I thought it looked boring and quite frankly didn't care less about what happened at Abigail's bash! But, my partner went ahead and ordered it, thinking it was good to try out some of the old 'classics'. I decided at first not to watch...
WHAT A MISTAKE!
...I ended up sitting down to it (I think the other option was the washing up) and I was utterly swept away with this film.
Director, Mike Leigh (Vera Drake, Topsy-Turvy) has a little gem in his collection here. The film was devised by himself and the cast through a series of improvisational workshops, in true Leigh style. It was commissioned for a television series from the 70s called 'Play for Today'. ABIGAIL'S PARTY was the first of his films I had seen, but it certainly won't be my last. This approach to film making creates a rare sense of realism, with little quirks and isms from the cast, that I'm not sure would have necessarily come out of working with a script first.
In the film, we see a gathering of people, who wouldn't normally socialise with each other, with lots of alcohol thrown in and certains degrees of shame from all (!) Beverly played by Alison Steadman (Fat Friends) received huge acclaim from this role, and Laurence played by Tim Stern, host the impromptu party whilst their daughter Abigail (whom we never meet) is away at her party down the road. We meet their neighbours and guests Angela, wonderfully played by Janine Duvitski (One Foot in the Grave) and Tony played by John Salthouse (The Bill), then we finally meet Susan played by Harriet Reynolds. Such a small cast! I was very impressed by the SUPERB acting from everyone and interestingly. My favourite actor by far was Janine Duvitski who was hilarious - it's worth seeing this film to watch her 'slow dance' if nothing else...GENIUS!!
This film has many laugh out loud moments, as well as many cringe-worthly funny moments - as well as those awkward is-it-appropriate-for-me-to-laugh-here moments! I just wish the film had lasted longer, it only went on for just over an hour (102 mins).
This a black comedy in it's truest form...I'm not going to tell you what happens in the end, but let's just say I was surprised! If you like all things 70's, then this is for you. The film looks like something straight out of a 70s TV sitcom (I don't mean that as a negative), ooo check out the orange leather sofa - mmm nice! I would recommend it to anyone who likes comedic drama. It is definately a no-thrills production (the entire film is set in Beverley's front room), so if you only like action films with top-notch special effects, you'll not like this. If you have fetish for all things 70's and British, give it a go!
Thanks for reading :)
© MarcoG 2008
(similar version also on ciao)
"Abigail's Party" is one of those television moments which has become almost iconic in its status. It is one of the most quoted dramas amongst my friends and family and has become a bonding agent when I have met new people I have subsequently learned to be fans.
The entire action takes place in the living room of Lawrence and Beverley's semi in the heart of suburbia. As the play opens, Beverley is putting on some music and pouring herself a gin and tonic to get herself in the party mood. Lawrence has just arrived home from work; he is stressed and tired but Beverley won't let him rest. They're having friends round for drinks and Lawrence needs to go out to buy some more bottles.
Their first guests are a couple who have recently moved into the area. Angela and Tony are an odd couple. She is wishy washy, agreeing with everything the more vocal Beverley has to say, he is surly and clearly doesn't want to be there. He positively bristles at the embarrassing things his wife says.
Their other guest is Sue, another neighbour. The reason for the group's soiree is that Sue's teenage daughter, Abigail, is holding a party or her birthday at home. Beverley has persuaded Sue that everything will be Ok and that she should spend the evening with them to avoid the noise and not cramp Abigail's style.
The group are not natural friends. having little in common other than being neighbours. Conversation is strained, brash and boastful Beverley becomes lewd and lascivious as she gets more and more drunk. She pouts and poses in front of Tony and the sexual tension between the two is tangible. Ange meanwhile prattles away telling everyone the same things and poor Sue sits quietly worrying about what is going on at home. Beverley, who claims to be supporting Sue, drops in comments about teenagers and how she behaved when she was Abigail's age - naturally this does not serve to reassure Sue.
Lawrence meanwhile is becoming increasingly hot under the collar. After a stressful day at work the last thing he wants to do is listen to Beverley trying to impress the neighbours. Lawrence sees through Beverley but he is either too tired or too cowardly to stand up to her. He lets her belittle him in front of strangers and when he tries to respond with sarcasm to her nagging, it is wasted because the guests, except for Sue, are too drunk to appreciate it.
The night goes from bad to worse and reaches its denouement in a startling but perhaps not fully unexpected way.
Alison Steadman steals the show as Beverley. In other roles I have felt she has over-acted but here she is pefect. The part suits her down to the ground. Alison Steadman shows Beverley for waht she is - common, at times vulgar, a woman who is interested only in outward appearances who lacks refinement and taste although she considers herself to be at the forefront of sophistication.
Tim Stern plays Lawrence - beleaguered, stressed and over-worked, bullied by his domineering wife and forced to work hard to provide for his money mad wife. He too puts in a fine performance.
Janine Duvitski plays the tedious and naive Ange. She is simpering but eager to please and her willingness to be so agreeable could be read as a wish to fit in and make friends in the neighbourhood.
John Salthouse is the brooding Tony, a man who seems, for the most part, to be a coiled spring ready to explode at any second. He has long periods of silence which suddenly culminate in a scathing attack on his wife.
Sue is played by Harriet Reynolds. This is another terrific performance but the character is more understated than the other roles and she has fewer real comedy moments. Sue is completely the antithesis of the shallow Beverley and the bland Ange.
A COMEDY OF MODERN MANNERS
I have heard it said that "Abigail's Party" is very dated but I would argue strongly against this position. Indeed, the outfits are dated but the situation is not - five adults "enjoying" an evening together, discussing buying houses, music, work, their children.
Two things make this play stand out. One is the combination of superb acting and Mike Leigh's expert direction. The other is the writing. There are some fantastic lines and this is observational comedy at its very best. I could list so many lines from the play but I wouldn't want to spoil it for those who haven't seen it but may be inpsired to seek out a copy on video and I would find it difficult to stop at just a couple of examples. One of my favourites, though, is one of Beverley's lines. She is trying to persuade Lawrence to play a Demis Roussous record. Lawrence is dead set against the idea but when she has nagged him into submission she starts floating around the lounge to the music and says "He's great isn't he Ange? And he doesn't sound fat!"
"Abigail's Party" is a brilliant example of the "tragi-comic". Each character's inadequacies are laid bare but the humour isn't mocking. It is somehow touching and terrifying at the same time. Beverley's behaviour makes you cringe but it makes you feel for Lawrence. Ange's feeble attempts at conversation are laughable but Tony's attitude towards her is cruel and heartless, she is his wife after all.
I am a big fan of Mike Leigh's work - "Nuts in May", "High Hopes" and "Life is Beautiful" are amongst my favourite films but this will always be top of the pile for me. "Abigail's Party " is the type of film where you notice something new with each viewing - a previously unheard line or a bit of comedy "business", a facial expression or a posture. It is as fresh today as it was in 1977 when it was first screened thanks to great acting and a fantastic script.
This would appeal to anyone who enjoys quality writing, black comedy and thinks gin is "a nice drink". To find out why you can buy "Abigail's Party" on DVD through amazon.co.uk priced from 12.96 Pounds or on video priced from 6.00 Pounds.
This movie was average. I did nothing for me. Everything was average. The actors were average. The acting was average. The story line was average. The jokes were average. The setting was average. The opening was average. The middle was average. The ending was average. I even bet that the sandwiches on the set that the cast and crew had for lunch were also average. I suppose that this movie will be watched by average people in their average cinemas. So see this movie if you want but be warned its nothing more than average.
"Abigail's Party" is unforgettable. There is something vaguely unpleasant about the immediate scenario when the "play" begins. Is it something to do with the now hideously tacky 70's decor, which was considered chic and tasteful back then, that sets you on edge? Is it the remarkable Beverley, who hoves into view with powerful shoulders, and dominates the room with her very presence? You're never completely sure, but the feeling never leaves you. Based on the Hampstead Theatre production, the story is a simple one. This is about a group of neighbours who have a get together one night. The party is at Beverley and Laurance's house, and their guests are Angela and Tony who have just moved into their road, and Sue, their recently divorced next door neighbour who's escaping her house because her teenage daughter, Abigail is having a party. The relationships are established pretty much immediately. Beverley is a formidable woman, full of confidence, arrogance and inflated opinions, whilst Laurence is a highly strung Estate Agent, of much smaller stature, both physically and emotionally. Beverley bears down on her guests, cigarette in one hand, drink bottle in the other, offering "Little top ups" in her affected party hostess voice, acting as though she's everyone's best friend. She orders Laurence around and dispenses withering looks in his general direction for most of the evening. Sue, their neighbour, appears tense and on edge, never seeming relaxed, nor enjoying the attention that Beverely keeps giving her. Her mind is clearly on the party that her daughter is having. Sue seems tired, sad and desperate to be anywhere other than where she is. Tony and Ange are as odd a couple as Laurence and Beverley appear to be. Ange is a Nurse who seems happy to bobble along in life, quite naive in her ways and frumpy in her dress. Her husband Tony is a far more interesting specime
n. He's quiet, smouldering, not much of a conversationalist, has little patience with his wife, and seems to find Beverley as silently interesting as she finds him. The awful preamble to the seduction stages are slowly starting to be played out between the two of them. This includes a wonderful series of moments, whereby Beverely insists that everyone listens to Demi Roussos sing "Forever and Ever", swaying her way seductively round the room against her husbands wishes. Moving in for the kill, she pairs people up for dancing while she smooches with 'Tone', with some painfully funny results. Then you have the argument about Art. The discussions on Shakespeare. The whole play is building up towards the skin-crawling crescendo, and all you can do is watch helplessly, spellbound like a rabbit caught in headlights. Maginificent. Outstanding. An absolute must-see. The cast is fabulous and their acting is out of this world. "Beverley" is played by Alison Steadman, "Laurence" - Tim Stern, "Tony" - John Salthouse, "Angela" - Janine Duvitsky and "Sue" - Harriet Reynolds.
Mike Leigh is a goddess! Abigail is the most likeable yet punchable character i have encountered yet in film (with Jack Nicholsons wife in 'The Shining' following very closely behind, except that she's not even likeable) and i think that that's a pretty good statement of her acting skills. I first saw the film when there was an 'Abigails Party' night on T.V. It has since become my quest to force everyone i meet to see the it, well, not really. I really don't stand at parties and talk about films all night long, lolling in the sound of my own voice, which i will assume some of the more 'convention attending' members are liable to do. But what do i know. Anyway. If you're looking for a great night in with the girls and a bottle of wine, get this out. You could probably giggle over it without losing the plot and it has the best lipstick application tips ever.
This is a Mike Leigh classic which is extremely funny in parts. Mike Leigh is my fave director and writer. He knows just how to capture the uneventful lives of ordinary people and he does it with such satire. His other works include High Hopes, Life is Sweet, Secrets and Lies and Naked and most recently Topsy Turvy which is a different style entirely. All his actors improvise and scripts are rarely used. He also tends to use the same actors/actresses in many of his plays and they play each part brilliantly. The 70s set is perfect and starts brilliantly with Beverley (played by Alison Steadman) dancing provocatively to a Donna Summer song ‘Love to Love Yer Baby’ lighting up a cigarette. I knew with this scene that I would enjoy the rest of the play because you can tell she’ll be a fun character and she will provide most of the laughs. All the play is set in the living room and you can imagine the claustrophobic atmosphere when she invites her new neighbours and a recent divorcee Susan for a drink. Susan’s daughter Abigail is having a party at Susan’s house. Although Abigail is never seen in the play, she and what she might be getting up to is a concern throughout the play. Once everyone has arrived they just sit around trying to make conversation. If I had been invited I would have made an excuse and got out of there quickly because everyone is uptight and you can feel the tension, apart from Beverley who is determined to have a great time and have her own way. I would say no character is likeable and if you came across them in real life you would avoid them. Beverley is fantastic playing a bored housewife who is indulgent and obnoxious. Her high pitched voice irritates the hell out of you but what she says and how she says it is very funny. Her constant asking if ‘everyone is alright’ and ‘would anyone like any pineapples’ is really amusing. She dresses provocat
ively in a low cut top and does her best to wind everyone up, including her snobby husband Lawrence (played by Tim Stern). Her flirting with the married man angers him and there are some really tense scenes between them. The scenes remind me of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in ‘Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf’. There are many tense moments throughout and you know it is leading up to something at the end (won’t spoil it for you though - hope I’ve not already). The arguments are usually trivial and are due to the way the couples relate to each other. Beverley insists on playing all her favourite records, including Demis Russos and ignores Lawrence’s pleads for a change of music. If you think this play is not for you, if it ever comes on the TV give it a chance. It didn’t appeal to my husband so I sent him off upstairs to watch the footy and when he came down for a beer he glanced at the TV and grinned. He then stood there for a few minutes and found himself laughing. As I taped it he said he would try and watch it again with me. I still found it just as funny the second time. You’ll find yourself singing ‘Love to Love You Baby’ by Donna Summer after seeing this and dancing around like a bit of a tart - even the blokes.
Originally screened as part of BBC's Play for Today series in 1977, Abigail's Party is among Mike Leigh's most celebrated pieces, with his then-wife Alison Steadman appallingly brilliant as what Alan Bennett described as the "brutal hostess" at a ghastly suburban soiree. The Abigail of the title never appears--rather, the dull thud of her lively teenage party forms a distant backdrop (and contrast) to an excruciating evening of chilled red wine, olives and the music of Demis Roussos. Steadman plays the overbearing Beverley, an Amazonian mass of frustrated sensuality in a low-cut party frock. Tim Stern is her small, stressed estate-agent husband. The guests are Janice Duvitski as Angela, a nurse whose quite spectacular gormlessness shields her from the stilted social awkwardness quietly raging around her, John Salthouse as Tony, her taciturn husband and Harriet Reynolds as Sue, the gangly and miserably nervous mother of Abigail. Rather than play for gags, Leigh and his actors mercilessly turn the screw of embarrassment through a series of too-true-to-life exchanges of dialogue, the stuff of all our collective worst memories of encounters with neighbours, aunts and office colleagues. Often misread as a satirical parade of suburban grotesques, Abigail's Party probes deeper than that, touching on nerves of anxiety and repression that throb behind the net curtains of modern England, culminating not in farce but tragedy. Decades on, Abigail's Party is as psychologically true and close to home as ever--hard to bear but utterly brilliant. On the DVD: Abigail's Party is perfectly reproduced here in all its 1970s garishness. The one extra is a short featurette, focussing on Alison Steadman's playing of Beverley, with comments from the original actors in the TV series and Peter York marvelling at her "paint-scraping" voice. --David Stubbs