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Riot Club, The (AF)

10/10

Stars: Sam Claflin, Max Irons, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Ben Schnetzer, Jack Farthing, Matthew Beard, Freddie Fox, Josh O’Connor, Olly Alexander, Jessica Brown Findlay, Holliday Grainger, Natalie Dormer, Tom Hollander

Director: Lone Scherfig

Despite continuing social change, many upper-crust Britons still enjoy nothing better than putting wannabe ‘posh’ people firmly in their places as underlings. This riveting drama, cleverly opened out from her hit play ‘Posh’, by Laura Wade, attacks class consciousness with wit and acidic cruelty with its scarifying story of upper-class snobs at Oxford University indulging in hazing aspirant members of the eponymous club (patently based on the notorious Bullingdon Club whose alumni include David Cameron and Boris Johnson) in ways that would make most US college fraternity house members blush (Bad Neighbours, anyone?) with embarrassment.

So what do you need to make one of the best British films of the year?

Simple.

A first-rate screenplay (check), a top notch cast (check) and, naturally, a Danish director, Lone Scherfig, whose mordant approach to her material, relying on content rather than over-writing and/or over-acting, gives the film a painful but all too-convincing bite.

The central storyline is simple – having depicted the historical genesis of Oxford’s Riot Club with a costume sequence that resembles a vintage Gainsborough historical drama strongly seasoned with sex, drink and plentiful bad language (well after all, Film Four is one of The Riot Club's producers), the narrative settles down to the induction of privileged Sam Claflin and less-privileged Max Irons, fancied by a gay member of the Club, into the university’s extra-elite society.

Self-indulgence is the watchword of the Club, founded by “A true hedonist who dazzled us into debauchery”. Which motto is pursued to the full and beyond in the central section when Claflin and Irons join the club members at a country inn for a night of drink, food (including a roast fowl stuffed with several other birds whose missing guinea fowl triggers off patronizing mayhem) and culminates in the murder of the landlord.

The dinner, “debauchery raised to an art”, is a memorable sequence made all the more powerful by the stark scenes that precede it and the resolution that follows. Even members of similarly created university clubs might blench at the chaos created and vividly controlled for maximum dramatic impact by Scherfig and almost all her cast.

Every performance (with the exception of Tom Hollander who – and not for the first time – fails to rise to the occasion) is spot on.

The elite have rarely been so accurately and acidly pilloried on film. While Oxford may hate the film, it hits the spot hard and often and provides considerable pleasure watching the upper-crust being thoroughly and cruelly toasted.

Alan Frank

UK 2014. UK Distributor: Universal. Technciolor.
107 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 2, Swearing 3.

Review date: 20 Sep 2014