This review was originally written as an article for The Mancunion newspaper.
Director: Lone Scherfig
Cast: Sam Claflin, Max Irons, Natalie Dormer
Run time: 1hr 47mins
Plot: Two freshers join the most exclusive society of the most prestigious university in the country: the Oxfordian Riot Club. It’s a shitty film.
‘It’s not a toilet, it’s a loo’ – According to Laura Wade (who adapted the script from her own play, Posh) and director Lone Scherfig, the only way to determine whether or not someone is indeed ‘posh’ is to get them to shout phrases that ‘normal’ wealthy people wouldn’t dream of saying, mixed in with a bit of Latin. ‘Let’s have some Carpe fucking diem!’ – that’s another one they say. And it doesn’t even make sense. Stulti!
The Riot Club had one of the most enticing premises for a British independent film in years, promising an exciting ensemble cast in a hilarious, unflinching satire of the infamous Oxfordian Bullingdon Club, the exclusive alumni of which include David Cameron and Boris Johnson. Said club still exists, though not in any formal sense and not supported or recognised by Oxford university itself, and its main purpose seems to be to allow people of future import to let their hair down before a fifty year career of slogging it in parliament. One issue, which Wade raises time and again in her film, is that the Bullingdon aka Riot Club is an all-male (and therefore sexually deviant and Illuminati-affiliated) organisation designed to breed misogynist elitists who will mould the entire populace to their own end. Bullingdon’s traditions are not as extreme as all this – most politicians just read a lot at university -although they have been rightly excoriated by the media for their presumptuous and often loutish behaviour; a purportedly common ritual is the trashing of a pub/restaurant with the knowledge that they can over-compensate for the damages and get away with it. So anyway, as was said already, it’s a good set-up for a film. The end result, for which it took the director an entire year of post-production (for an independent drama?!) to spew, is an unbelievable bore. This is the worst film of the year.
The Riot Club is a staggeringly harsh, crude indictment of a miniscule sub-set of people that no longer – if they ever did – exist. People of wealth and lineage may well feel entitled, and they undeniably get a better lot in life in terms of education – and thereby career, thanks to the powerful connection they make – but they are still human; money alone does not make one a bad person, but this film suggests it is almost a certainty. The lack of subtlety Scherfig and Wade’s film possesses with respects to classism and racism is truly abhorrent. Exaggerating the caricatures a notch or two is one thing, but if ‘posh twats’ behaved as depicted in the film (e.g standing on a table and declaring, ‘I am sick to death of fucking poor people!, or ordering a student to dole out oral favours to pay off their tuition fees) then they’d all be as dead as the French bourgeosie. It’s a good thing the Indy Ref was a ‘No’, though, because The Riot Club’s third act is basically ten English schoolboys beating a Scotsman to death. That’s still terrible, obviously, but not quite as raw as it could have been.
None of the cast of The Riot Club emerge unsullied – several careers have met their end here. Sam Claflin, Max Irons, and Olly Alexander are awful, while Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abey) and Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) are wasted in the most disgraceful manner imaginable. All that said, big shout out to Oliver ‘Olly’ Deasy – who accompanied me to the film – for his first ever film credit.