Oh my wow, it’s The Riot Club
*I’ve tried to avoid mentioning too much of what happens, especially the horrible thing at the end, despite the fact that it is quite heavily implied in the trailer. So it’s more a spoiler kazoo than a spoiler klaxon this time*
I find it incredibly depressing that a film about ten of the most horrible characters you will see on celluloid has now become one of my favourites of the year, if not of all time. I think it is because they are all charming. And have cheekbones you could open envelopes on. And this film looks beautiful and is well written with genuinely laugh out loud jokes (and not just in an lol bantah type of way, my face hurt from laughing) Before you all judge me terribly I am here to explain to you for why. The general background of this story has been widely reported so I’ll go bare minimum to spare you all from too much repetition. The eponymous Riot Club is based loosely upon several of the Oxford dining clubs (playwright of the original POSH and screenwriter Laura Wade has said that it isn’t just based on the infamous Bullingdon Club but the press all seemed to have ignored that) and the plot follows thus: two freshers Miles and Alistair (Max Irons and Sam Claflin) get recruited into the Riot Club, one of them has a common girlfriend of which he never hears the end, they all have a big dinner, fuelled by booze, testosterone and drugs and smash the place to bits. The end.
The primary reason that this film is so brilliant is that it is headed up by a cast of ten incredibly talented young men and three wonderful women, all of whom are going to be massive in just a few years. It is a credit to the male members of this cast that they all succeed in keeping you on their side as long as they do. Just when you think they might have veered to the dark side they sparkle, they grin, and they’ve won you over all over again. That is of course until they start tearing an innocent man’s business to shreds, simply for the thrill of it. They work as a well oily (like creepy politicians GEDDIT??!!) machine to charm both the audience and others around them into getting what they want handed to them on a plate. The stand out performances for me come from Sam Claflin as the frankly sinister Alistair Ryle, Matthew Beard as Guy ‘Bellend’ Bellingfield who has his eyes on the presidency and has the most immaculate comic timing and posh boy floppy hair and Freddie Fox as James Leighton-Masters, the club’s president who may seem like the big boss with all the big words (LET’S CARPE SOME FUCKING DIEM is in my top ten best lines) but when it boils down to it is just a spineless coward. There is an excellent shot of him sobbing in a prison cell that ALMOST makes you feel sorry for him. However in the next scene you realise that a) he has no backbone and b) he’s wearing horrible stripy socks and boat shoes and all sympathy is lost. Claflin, usually seen as Mr Nice Guy, is truly, sickeningly horrible as Alistair, the fresher who is living in the shadows of his elder ‘legend’ brother Seb and with a violent hatred of those beneath him. His impassioned and venomous speech is one of the film’s stand out set pieces and can arguably be seen as the reason for the devastating climax as his words rile the boys up into a frenzy of hatred and adrenaline. The speech smacks of a rallying leader and Claflin delivers it with such seething anger that you genuinely feel quite scared of him. It’s a masterclass in nastiness.
The script, thankfully written by original playwright Laura Wade, is sharp and witty whilst successfully solving some of the problems transferring a play which takes place almost exclusively in one room to the screen. She has retained some of her best jokes from the original (favourite examples include how do you make an Eton Mess? Tell him he only got into Bristol and an amazing joke about Alistair’s brother jacking in investment banking to get an Airstream caravan to sell really good burgers at festivals) whilst coming up with some genius additions. I haven’t consistently laughed as long and as loud at a film in a very long time. One particularly special example is the constant repetition of a new catchphrase ‘oh my wow’ that has, ironically of course, entered my vocabulary. There were moments where it was just me and my best friend cackling like demons whilst the rest of the audience shot us evil looks, in particular the scene in which Miles (Max Irons) and his girlfriend Lauren (Holliday Grainger) engage in a steamy sex scene on the floor of a tutor’s office, watched over by a truly horrible stuffed badger. Ain’t nothing to put you in the mood like a dead woodland creature watching you, eh ladies? Talking of the women, I found their treatment extremely interesting, especially given the fact that the playwright, director of the original play and the director of this film (Lone Scherfig) are all women. For such a male centric piece, I do find it somewhat ironic that it’s always helmed by a woman, somehow I don’t these boys would like it. ANYWAY there is now one extra character in the shape of Lauren who, upon meeting Miles on freshers night falls for him immediately which, considering Max Irons is one of the most handsome men ever, I totally understand. What is so clever about the invention of Lauren and her role as the girlfriend of one of the members is the sense of jeopardy the audience feels for her, coming from our investment in her character. There is a horrible and heart rending scene in which Lauren is summoned to the dinner as joke by Alistair, only to be offered £27,o00 to give all the boys a blow job (a disgusting idea that caused the audience where we saw it to audibly gasp) and be humiliatingly assaulted whilst various members hold her boyfriend down. Holliday Grainger does a wonderful job as the innocent whose boyfriend got involved in all the muck and it is devastating stuff to watch. The one downside to Lauren is that she leaves a lot less for Jessica Brown Findlay’s character, waitress Rachel, to do as in the play the ritual humiliation was exacted upon her which I find a great shame because I love Jessica and would liked to have seen more of her. The third and final woman is a ‘prozzer’ named Charlie, played by the unfairly beautiful Natalie Dormer. Whilst it is only a very small part, Dormer plays it well, oozing sexiness and class.
The Riot Club is a beautifully shot, incredibly funny film with a nasty heart that makes you fear going within 50 miles of an Oxford college. It may not be everyone’s glass of champagne but I do urge you to see it. Two hours in the company of these boys might leave you feeling slightly sick but thoroughly entertained. Now come on, let’s leave this behind us and get absolutely chateaued.