Title: The Riot Club
Director: Lone Scherfig
Major Players: Max Irons, Douglas Booth, Sam Claflin
Out Of Five: 3
It looks like ensemble pieces are the in thing with British film makers. Last week, we had something close to a who’s who of British acting in Pride. Seven days later we’re watching the next generation of acting talent in The Riot Club – and a very posh lot they are as well. But somehow I don’t think last week’s characters would very impressed by the antics of this fictionalised university dining club.
The spotlight was turned on the real Bullingdon Club when it was revealed that Messrs Cameron, Osborne and Johnson had all been members in their Oxford days. The film is a thinly-disguised fictionalised account, based on Laura Wade’s 2010 play Posh, with the society’s name changed to the Riot Club. It starts with the arrival of two freshers at Oxford: Miles (Max Irons) and Alastair (Sam Claflin). Their backgrounds are poles apart – the privileged Alastair whose ‘legend’ of a brother is a former chairman of the club and Miles who’s been to Harrow, but is decidedly middle class. Both soon meet the members of the Riot Club and are nominated to join. With the initiation ceremonies under their belts, they prepare to attend their first club dinner – where the society lives up to its name. And how.
The ensemble here has some familiar faces, two of which are also in Pride. Ben Schnetzer is easy to spot, Freddie Fox less so. And Ollie Alexander, recently in God Help The Girl, plays one half of a pair of permanently sniggering twins. But to the fore are the likes of Irons, Claflin and Douglas Booth. They’re all impossibly beautiful and, more disconcertingly, all look remarkably alike – so it’s difficult to distinguish between them at times, especially when they all dress the same, and that makes the story unnecessarily confusing. It says something about their acting as well.
From the look of this, the future of British acting is in the hands of pretty young men with floppy hair and chiselled jaws. The future of Britain in the film is in the very same hands and it’s a depressing thought. We’re not talking adolescent misbehaviour here. As the dinner party, the climax of the film, approaches, there’s a feeling of dread. It’s obviously not going to end well and, as it progresses, you fear for the safety of the feisty waitress (Jessica Brown Findlay). She’s not the victim, but a savage and mindless beating is handed out – and the private dining room is completely wrecked. Nothing remains intact.
The Riot Club’s stage origins are obvious throughout the film – the confined settings of the dinner party and the pub – although some intelligent pieces of camerawork let us observe the club from the outside through distorting windows. What hasn’t transferred to the big screen is any of the humour, which gave the characters a sympathetic edge, despite their actions. Here, they’re just privileged, spoiled brats who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing, so they’re guaranteed to make your blood boil if you lean anything more than a gnat’s whisker to the left.
Worse still, the final sequence shows that, despite everything we’ve seen, nothing is going to change. The old boy network still rules, here in the shape of a flinty-eyed Tom Hollander, who offers a lifeline to the club member facing prosecution for the dinner party incident. At the end, the young man leaves a Westminster gentlemen’s club with a smile on his face. He’s off the hook and that’s all he cares about.
The political messages about abuse of privilege and respect for others are all pretty clear. What’s not are the real reasons for the behaviour of the club. Sure, there’s copious drink and some cocaine – and a tradition dating back to the late 18th century. But there doesn’t seem to be anything else. Which might just account for the film’s rather hollow feeling.
The Riot Club is released around the UK on Friday,19 September.