Based on a play by Laura Wade, The Riot Club explores the privileges rife at England’s top universities where clubs such as Oxford’s The Bullingdon (alumni include Cameron and Osbourne) apparently still get away with trashing the premises of their annual “Carpe FUCKING diem” dinner.
The lure of such movies is the voyeurism also responsible for the period bombast of Downton Abbey et al. And Scherfig (who also and expertly explored the English class system in An Education) is not above exploiting the fascination with a jeunesse dorée of the Brideshead school, with floppy fringes and fuck-you attitudes.
Two such, good-guy Miles (Irons), who ‘only’ went to Westminster, and rampant elitist Alistair (Claflin) from Eton are newly admitted members of the 10-man Riot Club. Donning their best bib and tucker, they set out for annual libations at a pub outside Oxford where assumptions of superiority turn out to be so ingrained that anything deemed mediocre is just crushed, verbally or physically.
The drastic means chosen by Scherfig to encourage both our empathy with Miles’ eventual rejection of privilege and our distaste for what appears to be its rosy future are not necessarily big-screen news, but they’re put to good use. And apparently, the underlying message still bears repeating.
The Riot Club | Directed by Lone Scherfig (UK 2014) with Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth, Max Irons. Starts October 9
Originally published in issue #131, October 2014.