There are few things as perversely fascinating as the British aristocracy. Whether it’s through ‘Brideshead Revisited’ or Hello! Magazine, that combination of power, money and class has a delectable appeal to it. Playwright Laura Wade used this as her central thesis for her hit play ‘Posh’, which she has adapted, with acclaimed director Lone Scherfig, into a most wicked little film, ‘The Riot Club’. However, hidden among the debauchery and the pretty young men revelling in it is a biting little bit of social commentary, which builds towards a damning and disturbing climax.
Two young and well-connected men, Miles Richards (Max Irons) and Alistair Ryle (Sam Claflin) begin their studies at Oxford. Though study partners, the boys take an instant dislike to one another, tightly-wound Alistair resenting Miles’ easy charms, especially towards fellow student Lauren (Holliday Grainger). Both boys are approached to become new members of The Riot Club, the most exclusive dining society at Oxford made up of Britain’s brightest and best, all destined for positions of power and influence. At a ceremonial dinner, the rest of the club welcome the boys with alcohol, food and any vice they could wish for - but what begins as excessive fun quickly spirals into disaster, as class values and vulnerable masculinity collide and explode.
Where similar films have revelled in the excess of the rich boys behaving badly, ‘The Riot Club’ isn’t quite as passive. With the lower classes gaining traction in society, this next generation of the aristocracy see themselves as a dying breed, whose kingdom is being invaded and who have not been given their due respect. It’s a testament to the skill of Scherfig and Wade that this doesn’t become apparent until the central dinner spins out of control in a tide of venomous verbal tirades and shocking violence. These ten young men believe they have the world at their feet, and will attack like animals to protect it. What Scherfig has crafted is a handsome yet deeply unsettling film that highly winds the tension until it’s almost unbearable. It isn’t an extraordinary piece of filmmaking, but it knows what it needs to do and does it with relish. Wade’s screenplay retains its theatrical roots but doesn’t fall flat because of them, and doesn’t rely on lazy cliché or storytelling to make its point. The cast are also fantastic, especially Irons’ gentle and charming performance and Claflin’s volatile and dangerous one. It might be a male-dominated cast, but Holliday Granger makes one hell of an impression, almost stealing the film from the boys, and Natalie Dormer makes an appearance with one scene-stealing moment.
This is a volatile little film, wickedly evil and at times surprisingly shocking.
The tricky thing about exploring masculinity on screen in any form is that balance between showing its complexity and violence without ever excusing or condoning it. Lone Scherfig and Laura Wade have done just that with ‘The Riot Club’, taking a group of young men on the terrifying brink of manhood and adding money, power and abandon into the mix. This is a volatile little film, wickedly evil and at times surprisingly shocking. You’ll find yourself both revelling in it and horrified by it, and for all the right reasons. The world of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ is starting to crumble, and they will defend it with all their might.
PICTURE & SOUND
‘The Riot Club’ is a visually handsome film, thanks in no small part to Sebastian Blenkov’s cinematography, and Madman have done it justice with a terrific 1080p 2.35:1 transfer. The film sparkles in high definition, with startling clarity and detail, and gorgeous autumnal colours. Equal praise goes to the surprisingly hard-working DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, which beautifully demonstrates the vibrant soundscape of the film.
The set offers only a series of interviews with the cast and crew, and a theatrical trailer. Thankfully the interviews are surprisingly detailed, discussing the adaptation process, the politics of the film and the class system in Britain that inspired it. They offer an excellent insight into the motivations and making of the film.