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Stars: Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike, Richard E Grant, Alison Oliver, Carey Mulligan, Archie Madekwe, Lolly Adefope, Reece Shearsmith, Shaun Dooley, Dorothy Atkinson

Director: Emerald Fennell

Fennell won an Oscar for the screenplay of her first film, but she comes more than a little unstuck with this wildly ambitious and almost surreal sophomore project.

Keoghan, a sort of UK version (though born in Dublin) of the young Dustin Hoffman, easily plays much younger than his 31 years as Oliver Quick, a first-year student at Oxford University, where's he's derided by Start (Madekwe) for his working-class Merseyside origins.

Focus of attention among the students is the charismatic, not to mention aristocratic Felix (Elordi), a girl-magnet who lives university life to the full. Soon drawn into Felix's vaguely dissolute circle, Oliver becomes the handsome toff's best buddy when Felix's bike has a puncture and Oliver lends him his for an onward journey.

Invited to spend summer hols at Felix's ancestral, palatial home, Saltburn, Oliver meets his host's impossible snobby, vacuous and precious parents (Pike, Grant), their alcoholic friend (Mulligan), their nympho daughter Venetia (Oliver) and, to his surprise, Start as well.

We're all about to lose our minds,' shrieks Venetia joyously. She's so right...and a lot else besides. She soon finds Oliver knows some advanced sexual techniques for a nerdy brainbox and, when Felix takes Oliver on a trip to see his alcoholic mother, he finds his new friend is far from what he has seemed...

Faced with early eviction from Saltburn, Oliver is still offered a 'little' farewell party for his birthday. 'What about fancy dress?' enthuses Grant. 'I could wear my suit of armour.'

Not even armour, however, can save the denizens of Saltburn...

Almost everything here is overdone (intentionally), but too much so. Even the excesses are excessive, while the last reel explodes into a kind of demented version of Kind Hearts and Coronets. Much of this is laughable, although often not quite as intended.

The film is, however, quite beautifully made, with 'Saltburn' a star in its own right. Incidentally, more cigarettes are smoked in this one than in a violent gangster flick. It's enough to make you cough.

David Quinlan

UK 2023. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers (MGM/Amazon). Colour by Company 3 .
127 minutes. Not widescreen (4 x 3). UK certificate: 15.

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

Review date: 16 Nov 2023