“In a few years time, these boys will be behind some very big desks..”
This is the alarming declaration that the viewer receives early on into ‘The Riot Club’; a film that gifts the viewer a chilling expose of an elite club comprised of only 10 members, at Oxford University. The parallels to the Bullingdon Club (with past members including David Cameron and George Osbourne) are obvious, and it’s safe to say David Cameron now sits behind a very big desk indeed. It’s this context that enriches the film and perhaps makes the viewer question where political allegiances come from.
This depiction of elitist, snobbish society is directed by the Danish Lone Scherfig. The premise is one which sees privileged males having one last “hoorah!” before settling down to a life of politics, in the public eye. Ignoring the hyperbolic contrasts between state and privately educated individuals and a frankly absurd Freshers week at Oxford, this is a fantastic film with food for thought in abundance. Just make sure you put on your robes before tucking in!
Entrenched in secrecy “if you have to ask, you’re not the sort of person The Riot Club wants” and bonded by base rituals – including spunking on the newly recruited members’ rooms – The Riot Club is given a rich history from the film’s opening credits. This fictitious history, centred on the “legend” that is Lord Ryote, goes part way to excusing the superior mentality of its members, but as the film progresses it becomes darker and harder to understand the mindset of the men involved.
Women are treated as subordinate to men the entire way through the film. What’s nice to see is that the main female protagonist is fiery, intelligent (proving that Northerners can get into Oxford) and won’t take anyone’s shit. Natalie Dormer is an equally strong female character, although her part is minor and her career choice somewhat eyebrow raising.
Cruelly caught up into something far larger than she can comprehend, the viewer is likely to feel most empathetic towards Holliday Grainger’s character, Lauren. It’s pretty heart-breaking to see her get let down by Miles (Max Irons), her boyfriend and riot club member… but this raises important questions about friendships and reputations at the expense of relationships, forcing the viewer to question their own priorities. At what point do you turn around to your friends, and say “enough is enough?” One of the presiding questions asked by The Riot Club is “is doing nothing ever as bad as being the perpetrator?”
After a night of excess spirals into chaos at The Bull’s Head, with violence and truly stomach turning cinematography, the viewer is on the edge of their seats. These strappingly handsome actors – including Sam Clafin and Douglas Booth – do an enthralling job of demonstrating just how a good time can get wildly out of hand.
“People like us don’t make mistakes.”
Sam Clafin acts with a sinister air, his character’s declaration that he just “fucking hates poor people” doesn’t bode well for tomorrow: the film ends with a knowing smirk from his despicable character Alistair Ryle – he knows as well as the viewer does that if you’re rich you can come out of any mishap unscathed. The bottom line? Rich people can do whatever the fuck they want.
Words by Beth Kirkbride