The Riot Club (15)

Posh people confess to hating poor people. It’s not exactly ground-breaking. You don’t need to know much more than that to grasp the premise of this adolescent catastrophe of a movie.

My initial concern was that it would turn out to be a clone of The Social Network, which I hated. It was so pretentious and had a very clear class divide. Unfortunately I was right; The Riot Club is a travesty.

Two first-year students at Oxford University join the infamous Riot Club, where reputations can be made or destroyed over the course of a single evening. The debauchery of the elite club quickly spirals out of control and tests the strength of the so-called friends.

This movie came out a very unfortunate historical moment; it shows a drunken bunch of minted Oxford undergraduates destined for political greatness, smashing up a country pub whose hard-working owner is … erm … Scottish.

A few years ago David Cameron was famously embarrassed when a group photo emerged, showing him strutting around as a member of Oxford University’s Bullingdon Club, along with the rather more thick-skinned Boris Johnson. They were a tiresome collection of rowdy middle-class toffs on grants. They smashed every window in Peckwater Quad of Christ Church College.

It’s evident that The Riot Club is based upon Oxford University’s Bullingdon Club. Laura Wade’s stage play Posh reinvented the Bullingdon as The Riot Club, and Wade has now rewritten it for a screen version directed by Lone Scherfig, who made An Education and One Day.

Posh boy Miles (Max Irons) enrols at Oxford University and is keen to distance himself from the idea of old money and the class system. He meets and falls in love with Lauren (Holliday Grainger), a pretty, intelligent girl from a state school. It’s One Day all over again.

The poor little rich boy, yes we’re supposed to feel sorry for this chap, gets invited to join the notorious Riot Club. After a not so gruelling initiation process Miles becomes a fully-fledged member of the club. But it quickly becomes clear that Miles has something that the other boys lack, a conscience.

The rich smoothies start teasing him about his lower-class girlfriend and it all ends in horror at the annual debauched dinner held this year at The Bull’s Head, a village gastropub with fine-dining pretensions, far from Oxford because “we’re banned from anywhere closer”.

Here new members Alistair (Sam Claflin) and Miles, vie to impress the others with their binge-drinking stamina, whilst the landlord (Gordon Brown, no relation) bows and serves in their private room. The debauchery, shouting and breakages get louder as the night goes on, and when one member of the club summons a prostitute in the hope of a 10-man under-the-table servicing, a line gets crossed.

What then ensues is supposed to be shocking, but to be honest I was so bored by that point I didn’t bat an eyelid. The movie lacks any political bite. I found myself laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.

The Riot Club has been described as a sharp satirical take on English class warfare. Really? It’s so full of ham-fisted performances it should have been called How to Butcher a Perfectly Good Play.

By Ruth Walker
★★☆☆☆

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