The Riot Club

riot club, the 2.jpg
UK Release Date 19th September 2014
Director Lone Scherfig
Starring Terribly Good Looking People
Runtime 109 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 20th September

If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, firstly left me thank you for you time and secondly let me say that you probably know what is about to come next. Yup, I have not seen Posh, the play written by Laura Wade, upon which Lone Scherfig’s latest movie is based. Having seen the film though, I’m inclined to wish I’d watched the play instead.

With the title changed to The Riot Club (I suspect international marketing having a say in that decision), the play has been expanded somewhat from it’s original single scene format in an attempt to make it more cinematic. The core of the movie remains the same though; a bunch of Oxford undergraduates congregate at the annual Riot Club lunch. It doesn’t end well.

The club of course, is a thinly veiled version of the infamous Bullingdon Club, Oxford’s premier club for the children of the influential. The fictional version limits its members to ten boys (no girls allowed here - boo hiss) and as one character puts it near the beginning of the movie “If you have to ask [about how to become a member] you can’t become one”. New boys Alistair (Sam Clafin) and Miles (Max Irons) are selected to complete the current roll of eight boys and undergo the usual hazing (drinking horrible substances, having their rooms trashed) before being invited in to the hallowed halls.

I’ll apologise now if I’ve got any of the characters mixed up in this review, they genuinely all look the same to me. Kind of a hazy blur of over-fed, really really ridiculously good looking bores. Aside from the two new boys, there’s the country gent one, the Greek one, another couple who look even more similar than the rest, the obviously gay one, the club president and… er… the one Douglas Booth plays. There may be a couple of others I’ve missed there.

The story centres around the growing animosity between Alistair (the proper posh one) and Miles (the nice posh one). Miles embarks on a relationship with state school import Lauren (Holliday Grainger) but is very soon seduced into accepting his invite into the club. Clearly common girlfriends are not going to sit too well with the other members. Having been banned from any local establishments, the team descend on a quiet country gastropub to wreak havoc.

As a scathing satire on the state of British privilege, The Riot Club certainly isn’t subtle. Opening with a sketch so Blackadder-like I was expecting Baldrick to wander through, we are then presented with a check list of broad stereotypes in place of properly formed characters. The welcome addition of Lauren is a good effort to flesh out Miles’ character, leading to probably the most rewarding aspect of the film. Watching Miles’ gradual slide into the abyss of doing whatever you like so long as you can afford to pay for the damage is horrific to behold, making you genuinely wonder if people in his position have any choice in the way they turn out. 

Overall though, I couldn’t help but pine for more insight. There is a brief attempt to breathe some political contrast into the characters, as Alistair and Miles spar over historical essays on the NHS but beyond knowing that everyone is stinking rich, their motivations are left opaque. Which may of course be the whole point, are these people just so rich and bored that they have to spend their college days drinking into oblivion and offering huge amounts of money for sexual favours?

The movie is probably more effective as a horror than a satire, I’m not really convinced it’s funny enough to warrant the latter description. Parts are amusing as you guffaw at just how silly these boys are with their money but for the most part, I’m sure that has been done better elsewhere. And to be honest, ditching your big shiny posh car because somebody has thrown up on it and “the ashtray was full anyway” is pretty old hat.

I guess the main reason I’m disappointed with The Riot Club is that it didn’t give me anything new to rant about when I exited the screening. I wanted to be scandalised by biting satire that showed how these people get away with it because they’re rich and although that is certainly laid out during the movie (and nicely highlighted in the final scene), it just didn’t press my buttons as it should have. If a little more had been invested in Miles and Laura, the resulting carnage may have hit home more but as it is, it’s brutal but ultimately unemotional. As an interesting look at pack mentality amongst a group of rich boys, the movie does well and the final meltdown, when it finally comes, is almost unwatchably visceral but as an insightful satire on British class, I am less than convinced.

Check out the trailer here.

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