Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Riot Club (2014)

The Riot Club is Laura Wade's big screen adaptation of her original play Posh. Clearly inspired by the Bullingdon Club, the notoriously ill behaved student dining society for the Oxford elite which counts the likes of Cameron, Osborne and Boris Johnson as its former members,  Wade's Riot Club establishes itself from the off as a centuries old society for the brightest and best to dine until sick on what life, lived to the full, has to offer.

Max Irons and Sam Claflin star as Miles and Alistair, two new students arriving at Oxford, who quickly catch the eye of the club as potential new members. Miles is clearly painted from the off as being a liberal, good egg; he graciously steps aside and allows Alistair to take the grand cloistered room he had been earmarked for, because Alistair's family had previously lived in it. He also defends the welfare state in a tutorial against Alistair's more traditional Conservative argument and, more specifically, he sets his cap on Holliday Grainger's Lauren, a hard working, working class girl from Yorkshire who has been allowed into the dreaming spires thanks to good grades, determination and a scholarship. With all these things in his favour its rather surprising he has such a perverse longing to join the club which includes in its number Douglas Booth, Poldark's Jack Farthing and Pride's Ben Schnetzer and Freddie Fox.

Alistair on the other hand is the complete opposite. A bad apple he is cold and ruthless and clearly languishing in the shade of his illustrious familial predecessors who had run wild through Oxford and the club. In wanting to cut his own swathe, he will resort to extreme measures - measures that could land them all in hot water.   

This occurs quite a way into the film and is essentially the main crux of what made the original play; a debauched dinner that spins wildly out of control within the private room of a rural pub called, tongue in cheek, The Bull's Head. I must admit (with my liking for films based on stage plays or those which could be described as stagy - a criticism for some, but not for me) it was these scenes that had the most frisson to them, which was certainly helped by the fact that it was the moment in the film when they seemed to break away from glamourising the juvenile behaviour of these toffs and depicting them with the ugly honesty they deserve.  

Director Lone Scherfig places a beautiful airy polish upon the proceedings in much the same way she did to her previous films One Day and An Education, but I do feel this does hamper the necessary bite and condemnation Wade's original play had especially when casting such a beautiful and familiar ensemble to play such disgraceful shits - there's always a risk that the beauty will blind people to the characterisation and have the audience root for them or be amused/enthralled by them. This is especially an issue with the film's 17th century set prologue which explains the hedonistic club's origins by depicting the the murder of its founding member the libertine Lord Ryot at the hands of a furious cuckolded husband. In kicking off the piece with such light hearted cheekiness it aims for our sympathy or getting us on side when in actual fact it should be abundantly clear that what we will see in the present day section of the film is par for the course and not an isolated spectacular bout of reckless boorish violence.

The 2010 debut of Wade's play Posh failed to keep the Tories out of government. Here's hoping this big screen version does enough to keep them out next month.

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