Dinner Arrangements

French-born Novelist and playwright Amanda Sthers follows her 2009 drama Je vais te Manquer with this English-language romantic comedy that remains in France. Set, for large parts, around the dinner table, it’s driven more by the charms of its cast – Toni Collette, Harvey Keitel and Michael Smiley included – than a farcical premise.

Towering above them all is the Spanish siren Rossy De Palma, a long-time muse and friend to Pedro Almodóvar, who gets a rare outing where she takes centre stage. Casting De Palma, and building the character around her, remains Sthers’ finest spark of inspiration here, in a story that sets out to put the haves and have nots under the microscope. A Come Dine With Me special, as it were.

The plot casts Collette as Anne, a spiky and sour-faced lady who lunches. She’s married to Keitel’s wealthy businessman Bob, living together in a palatial Parisian apartment as they endure a rather functional marriage. She used to be Bob’s golf instructor, but has long since climbed the social ladder with ruthless ambition. Witness her fastidious preparations for her latest dinner party.

Disaster strikes when Steven (Tom Hughes), Bob’s son from an earlier marriage, arrives out of the blue, upsetting the equilibrium as it means there will be thirteen guests around the table. Mon Dieu! To combat this potential faux pas, Anne forces De Palma, who plays Maria, the head of household, to dress up as a Spanish countess and even out the numbers. Much to Anne’s displeasure, she becomes an instant hit, even finding sparks of romance with one of the guests, art dealer David (Smiley).

Dealing with issues of class and social mobility, Sthers just about keeps this rocky idea afloat, although you suspect it would’ve fared better as a period piece than a contemporary comedy. Collette has a blast as the prissy Anne, although it’s hard to fathom quite why her character would ever marry Keitel. As mentioned, it’s De Palma who steals the show, with a pitch-perfect comic turn as a woman who blossoms as her confidence grows. As ragged as the story gets, she’s a magnetic presence throughout.

Madame opens on 20 July. For more details, visit StudioCanal.

James Mottram

1. Still from Madame. Courtesy of StudioCanal.