The Riot Club (2014) – Review

Directed by Lone Scherfig
Written by Laura Wade
Starring Sam Claflin, Max Irons, Douglas Booth
Two first-year students at Oxford University join the infamous Riot Club, where reputations can be made or destroyed over the course of a single evening.

Rich people are arseholes, regardless of their age. This is the enduring message that can be gleaned from Laura Wade’s screenplay, adapted from her own stage play, originally entitled Posh. Wade’s story has been closely associated by those ‘in the know’ with the real-life Bullingdon Club based at Oxford University, adorned by a select clique of students at the college that has included the likes of David Cameron and Boris Johnson in the past.
Traditionally seen as a dining club, these rare but hedonistic meetings of the University’s brightest and boldest are notoriously raucous, anarchic, debauched affairs and Wade’s script hopes to enlighten the likes of us mere hoi-polloi as to what goes on at these dinners. If you didn’t despise the privileged before this, well, you’ll find it hard not to hate them afterwards.
How the other half live, eh?
Well, it’s not quite the other half. Wade’s story suggests that this is indeed a very privileged club to be a part of to which you cannot apply and can only be invited, assuming you went to a decent enough school, numbering only ten members in a university boasting twenty thousand students. If you are invited in, then it’s no surprise that if you don’t already, you’re likely to feel quite a bit special.
Couple that special feeling with already being no doubt disgustingly spoilt, then you begin to understand the altogether misguided feeling of power and invincibility whirling around the young men here, akin to breathing in airborne cocaine with a steam room full of expensive bikini-clad lingerie models in a sealed wind tunnel made of Ben & Jerry’s and chocolate fudge cake.

Such a feeling of power is entirely wasted on the young, however, who can’t be trusted to pick their noses properly, so it is inevitable that feeling impervious to anything will mean everything is potentially dangerous. The more sage and wisened may stop and take a moment. These young men clearly do not subscribe to this philosophy, however.

The fact that almost all of the entire cast come off as repellent is testament both to some excellent performances and barbed and cutting scripting from Wade as these these horrible young men saunter about the place generally being posh, rich and spoilt, much as the poster suggests.

When a new term begins, we are introduced to a handful of new freshmen, particularly Alistair and Miles (Claflin and Irons) as they find their feet in their new environment. Confident, handsome, focused, selfish and monied make them interesting propositions for The Riot Club, who are in need of two new members. As such, these two young men are courted and then recruited into the University’s most exclusive group.

The meat of the story here revolves around the club’s dining event, where for generations it has been customary for members to gorge themselves on rich food and drink, sing songs at increasingly offensive levels, often destroying the very room they dine in and even employing the services of a prostitute or two to make the evening go with a bang, so to speak.

Keen to honour this tradition, but banned from almost everywhere within half an hour of University, the group travel out to a quiet, leafy pub in the country, The Bull’s Head, for what will be the first dinner that the two new initiates have been invited to. It is here where the majority of the film plays out.

The characters are, for the most part, developed only well enough to make them appear suitably hateful and stereotypical. They aren’t hard to dislike, imbibed with all of the pretentiousness of ugly self-delusion brought on by never being refused anything due to either their breeding or the wealth of their respective families. My audience was populated liberally with young women aged 16-24 or thereabouts, which I initially was quizzical about, but on reflection, this is an undeniably handsome bunch of actors assembled here, so perhaps it’s more obvious than I initially suspected. Either that or I’m doing these other cinephiles a terrible injustice, for which I will apologise if required.

Overall, a surprisingly satisfying project. You will already know how much you will be likely to hate the main protagonists before you enter, so already you’re going to get your money’s worth, if you can be assured of the players respective abilities at representation, which I can say is without question. A cast of largely unknowns makes this possible, even if you may recognise a couple of faces, you still might have trouble placing them. Hate is uppermost, mostly of poor people, but Ward is not too far gone to be able to poke fun on occasion and throughout the film, though appearing only sporadically, you might even find yourself chuckling from time to time.

A nice adaptation from Ward, though you would expect no less as this is her own original work, and Lone Scherfig does a fine job capturing not only the spite and bile from these boys, but also has a very impressive grip on the surroundings which could have undone the film, had they not been so believable. Worth a viewing.

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