The Riot Club is based on Laura Wade’s hit play Posh. When Wade’s work first opened back in 2010, everyone made a massive deal about the possible connections between its central society and the infamous Oxford Bullingdon Club. Set up as social and political commentary, Lone Scherfig’s The Riot Club is less of an important debate than it is a brash reintroduction of tired, old stereotypes.
No matter how much I loved An Education,I have to be honest, I never wanted to see The Riot Club. Unfortunately, a friend of mine was desperate to see it because “she loves posh boys”. As the only alternative film I had in my arsenal was the new and most likely disappointing Woody Allen film, I couldn’t change her mind. Still, considering Douglas Booth has a fucking beautiful jawline (who’s with me, ladies?) I was pretty sure I could work with it. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy a bit of social commentary on a Wednesday afternoon?
Adapting her original narrative for the big screen, Wade starts by turning The Riot Club into some kind of cheesy college-rom com. Miles (Max Irons) and Alistair (Sam Claflin) are newly arrived freshers who don’t get off to the best start. Instantly fighting to get the attention of lovable state school student, Lauren (Holliday Grainger), the pair fall into an uneasy rivalry. Unfortunately for the pair, they are both prime candidates for the mysterious and exciting Riot Club.
The plot quickly descends into a dark and unrelenting portrait of the excessive and irresponsible nature of those young men who are used to making problems disappear with their trust funds. Descending on a country gastropub, the boys get more out of control and riled up because, as we all know, rich people just fucking hate the poor. Indulging in a bacchanalian mixture of drinks, drugs, 10 bird roasts and hookers, the evening comes to a dramatic and life-changing conclusion.
The plot doesn’t really benefit from the move to the big screen and misses a big opportunity to do something clever and original. Scherfig pushes the dramatic juxaposition between the Roman excess of the Club and the warmth and calm of the rest of the pub for all she can. However, none of her fancy directorial tactics can help the latter half of the film transcend its staged origins.
The performances of the main cast are fine for a group of young men clearly chosen for their square-jawed, floppy haired looks than their ability. There are a fair few weak points within the club itself but the two main players, Irons and Claflin, provide a strong enough base.
The problem arises with the characters themselves; the portrayal of both classes are flawed and unbelievable. The non-moneyed are relegated to charming yet naïve Northerners who find themselves with the intelligence to get into Oxford but lacking common sense. Then we have the public school boys embracing their final chance for public debauchery before they enter the political world. However, the film never really convinces that they believe in the world they inhabit.
For all the talk of political satire, The Riot Clubnever provides a subtle new layer to the old class debate. Rather than offer an intelligent portrait of the idle rich, Wade falls back into hyperbolic stereotypes intended to rile up those who already possess an unhealthy hatred for privilege. The Riot Clubjust becomes a cinematic version of fucking bear baiting. By all means see it for the pretty, young men but don’t expect it to promote healthy discussion of British society.