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Abigail's Party (BBC) [1977] [DVD]

Alison Steadman , Tim Stern , Mike Leigh    Parental Guidance   DVD
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
Price: £4.60 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over £10. Details
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Product details

  • Actors: Alison Steadman, Tim Stern, Janine Duvitski, John Salthouse, Harriet Reynolds
  • Directors: Mike Leigh
  • Writers: Mike Leigh
  • Producers: Margaret Matheson
  • Format: PAL
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Subtitles For The Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: PG
  • Studio: 2 Entertain Video
  • DVD Release Date: 26 May 2003
  • Run Time: 60 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000096KEQ
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,632 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)



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

Product Description

Starring: Alison Steadman, Tim Stern, Janine Duvitski, John Salthouse Directed by: Mike Leigh Beverly (Alison Steadman) wears low-cut dresses, too much make-up and has a reputation as a man-eating monster. In Mike Leigh's modern classic, Abigail's Party, she turns a social get-together between married couples into a virtual time-bomb of emotional tension. Steadman won two Best Actress awards for her portrayal of the bored, bitchy hostess in this savagely funny study of pretentious middle-class social manners. It also stars Tim Stern, Janine Duvitski, John Salthouse and Harriet Reynolds. Extras include: Scene selection. Funny Women (edited highlight).

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
65 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stands the test of time 6 Oct 2005
I hadn't seen this for quite a few years and was afraid it might have lost its impact but it hasn't. It's still just as toe-curling and awful, and hilarious, as it was back in the seventies. Steadman is the obvious star, with her incredible mannerisms and burly shoulders, but Janine Duvitski is almost as good as the drippy yet crass Angie who embarrasses her husband with every word.
Not much happens of course. Except at the end. Mostly it's just drinks being served and guests squirming, but the whole play is priceless.
As time goes by, the perfect 1970s set becomes all the more nostalgic, and this only adds to the appeal.
I was pleasantly surprised by the picture quality. Extras are limited to a short exerpt from a documentary about funny women, but there are brief interviews with most members of the cast inclusing Steadman and Duvitski .
Highly recommended. A classic.
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67 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Black comedy at its very best... 28 Dec 2004
Like "The Office" 25 years later, "Abigail's Party" is such perfectly targeted, close to the truth humour that it makes you laugh out loud and cringe with embarrassment at the same time. In a setting that represents everyone's nightmare of mid 70's middle class life it sucks you into its brilliantly drawn world and then leaves you as some sort of unwelcome voyeur in the cocktail party from hell. Like most of the people there, you want to get out but you can't leave. And as things go from bad to worse you end up totally transfixed by the sheer awfulness of the situation you find yourself in.
With characters whose lives are so desperately frustrating that real aggression lies only just below the surface, this is black comedy at its very best precisely because it's much too close to reality for comfort. You can't help but laugh but you know that you're laughing at these people and their tragically depressing lives, and by the "sting in the tail" ending you really wish you hadn't. Brilliantly written, directed and acted "Abigail's Party" is far more than a humorous period piece and, quite rightly, stands up there as one of the very best British TV plays of the past thirty years.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mirror Mirror ....... 19 Nov 2007
This is quite deservedly a classic, despite the two negative reviews by "a customer". It is however excrutiating watching at times and purely because it is truly a mirror on not just the seventies warts and all, but on our society as still it is today. The only problem I have with this is that being a DVD it can be switched off when it becomes too skin crawlingly awful. Imagine the agony as an audience when you had to sit through it in a theatre unable to escape as it all unfolds in front of you. The seventies is merely a contemporary backdrop. This could be the year 2007 with a power dressing career woman inviting the new neighbours round to socially demolish them and establish the pecking order. An abject lesson in how not to behave in polite company.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Retro bliss 1 Sep 2009
Buy it immediately. This is the cocktail party from hell that starts off ever so politely and descends into chaos as the drinks keep flowing. It's total 70's heaven - think cheese & pineapple on sticks, a Demis Roussos LP on the record player and a rotisserie in the kitchen. Alison Steadman is bloody brilliant.
Abigail's Party (BBC) [1977] [DVD]
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A British gem to look at again and again 16 July 2007
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
Something you could watch again and again and not really get tired of. Nowdays a staple as a drama school production and the lead role's a hot favourite of budding actresses. So yes, it has a slightly kitch cult status now, and I'm not one to share the tastes of clueless drama students usually, having known quite a few of them, but here for once, their judgment is sound. Everything else about it has been said by others really, it is a rightful classic, an extraordinarily direct satire on suburban vulgarity and uptight middle class types and their inability to get along with each other, and it doesn't pull its punches.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless comedy in a 1970s setting 8 Mar 2004
This wonderfully comic play can be viewed at many levels:
- A clash of classes (Beverley and the neighbouring couple are working class; her husband Lawrence aspires to be middle class; and Abigail's Mum is upper middle.)
- A conflict of skills (Beverley as the stay-at-home, childless wife doesn't work, doesn't cook and orders poor Lawrence to do virtually everything, whereas her apparently inept neighbour comes into her own as nurse at the climax of the play.)
- As an allegory on the white man's departure from Africa. At the time of the play's creation, Britain was negotiating its exit from Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). Abigail's posh Mum doesn't know whether to leave the partygoers to it -- possibly causing havoc -- or to interfere herself, or to ask Lawrence to go and have a look.
Whichever way you look at it, it's tremendous fun throughout, with a flawless performance by Alison Steadman as Beverley. There are some fantastic lines, most of them uttered by Janine Duvitski (who went on to star in ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE), such as "I've got very beautiful lips" (you have to see Steadman's reaction), and "We're so alike" (ditto).
Strangely the weakest performance is by Tim Stern as Lawrence, who never totally convinces as the stressed-out, over-sensitive estate agent who thinks he's cultured because he owns a set of Shakespeare's works which he never expects to read.
The accompanying featurette is all too short, but it's pretty clear that this play simply wouldn't have existed without Alison Steadman's demonic creation. Mike Leigh may have been the writer/ director, but Beverley was based on an Essex woman and a cosmetics demonstrator whom Steadman met prior to the improvisations.
The DVD picture quality is a good as you could possibly expect from a BBC 1970s studio production. The 1970s decor comes up wonderfully!
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