By Will Barber – Taylor
“I am sick to death of poor people!”
The Riot Club is a film that shows off the great gap in British society between the rich and the poor. It also one of the best political satires of the last twenty years managing to satirize not only the distant past but also the all too dark present.
Set in Oxford, the film follows two first year students, Miles Richards (Max Irons) and Alistair Ryle (Sam Clafin) as they navigate their way through their new lives at university. However, soon both of them are spotted and asked to join the Riot Club, an elite drinking and dinning establishment whose president, James Leighton-Masters (Freddie Fox) needs two more members to fill up the rank of the Riot Club, or else he’ll go down in history as the first president not to get ten members.
The writing in the film is excellently done by Laura Wade who adapted the script from her play Posh. Wade manages to use some real events (such as an identical replica of the famous Bullingdon Club photo seen above) and mixes then with her own fictionalized events to create a cocktail of satire. Wade also gets the language used by the characters in the film down to a tee and manages to capture the lives of everyone in the film amazingly. She manages to make you feel emotion for all the characters in the film even if these emotions change over the course of the film.
This basic summary may make you think that the film is perhaps a light hearted romp through the English class system. It isn’t. The main question of the film is; Does thinking that you are better than everyone else corrupt you? This is wonderfully show by the dichotomy of our two main characters. Miles, on the one hand, doesn’t really dislike anyone and has sailed through life being loved and respected and so is kind and compassionate to everyone he meets. Alistair, on the other hand, lives in the shadow of his elder brother and is generally disregarded by his family and those around him.
At the beginning of the film, Alistair isn’t a bad person, in fact, he seems fairly nice. However, during a pivotal scene in which he is mugged by two thugs, he begins to unravel. When he joins the club this gets worse as Miles is given the honour and respect which he would like. All of this is wonderfully played by Clafin who portrays Alistair’s growing resentment brilliantly with the use of body language and the subtle changes to his facial expressions.
The rivalry between the two students is framed by the actual club itself and the fact they are at Oxford. The connotations that are associated with Oxford and something like the Riot Club make an even greater impact on the way the film is seen and judged. It mercilessly sends up the twenty something rara gentry types that are so vividly represented in the political establishment today. In particular, the club’s identity is the most important part of the film.
The old school ties that bind are what causes the conflict with the characters throughout the film. While Miles doesn’t want to be part of the system that fosters such hatred and disgust of “others,” Alistair accepts his place in the system and wants to use his place to bring about the almost murderous subjugation of the poor. In fact, at the end of the film Tom Hollander’s character Jeremy says that he isn’t just offering them a club but offering them a future as well. And this is the important thing; the club connection is what gives them the admission into the halls of power. What happens at the club and within it will form how they are in the future.
Some further comments must be given to the other fine actors in the film.
Holliday Grainger as Larua is excellent. She works as the counter balance to the films elitist characters, having come from a less well-off background. The stark contrast between her and the rest of the characters is when she talks to Miles on the rooftop of Oxford. She says how her dad cried when he knew that she was getting into Oxford, Miles replies that his dad would have cried if he hadn’t got into Oxford. This highlights the central difference between the two characters. Grainger also has some genuinely funny lines throughout the film.
We also see great scenes, though they are short, from Tom Hollander, Sam West and Geraldine Somerville. Each, though not really mentioned in connection with the film give great performances and add that little extra to round off the film’s great cast.
The Riot Club is a film about Britain today. A Britain divided between rich and poor, young and old and a country in which the rich seem to be despised more than ever. The Riot Club shows off these differences and it ultimately about indifference, arrogance, pride, fear and ultimately power. Power corrupts and power in the wrong hands can be a deadly thing.