In UK director Sally Potter’s brisk 71-minuter, a group of friends gather at the house of the hostess, Janet, a high-ranking politician (Kristin Scott Thomas), to celebrate her elevation to the position of shadow health spokeswoman.

Sally Potter’s  The Party

Like each of the filmmaker’s previous titles, including Orlandoand The Tango Lesson, the film represents an unexpected sideways leap of style (her auteur signature, so to speak, is not to have one), this time into the familiar terrain of the well-crafted comedy-drama about a domestic social event that goes disastrously wrong. While it feels as if it might have been adapted from a play, Potter wrote it for the screen.

She certainly doesn’t appear scared of nodding towards its various antecedents. Like Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party, someone collapses onto the living room floor in the third act, and like Ernest Lehman and Mike Nichols’ adaptation of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, there’s a character called Martha, though here she’s not the most acerbic woman. That would be the host’s best friend, April, whose ready supply of withering one-liners is handled with dry aplomb by...