The Riot Club (2014)
Directed by Lone Scherfig
As new students settle in to life at Oxford, a small group of privileged, very well-heeled young men have ambitions to be part of something even more exclusive than the ancient university: the Riot Club.
Since it was founded in the 18th century, the club’s all-male members, of whom there must always be ten, have dedicated themselves to decadence, drinking and debauchery, and generally flaunting their wealth, background, connections (and contempt for those who do not have these) to all those around them, plus an ever increasing circle of villages around the city, as they are banned from more and more restaurants following their wild, wrecking dinners.
Two in particular seem likely candidates: Alistair (Sam Claflin), younger brother of a former member, and possessor of a pathological need to belong; and Miles (Max Irons), highly eligible but suspiciously egalitarian (he begins dating a working-class student).
Alistair and Miles are admitted after enduring frat-style initiation rituals, and the ten can now prepare for the next club dinner.
I came to The Riot Club wanting to like it, given its subject matter and obvious references to the infamous Bullingdon Club, so it’s something of a surprise that it’s such a disappointment. There’s too much grandstanding, and the characters are too black and white (only Miles shows any glimmer of real reflection and change). By the time the dinner reaches it violent climax, it’s not clear whether it’s the club or the film that has lost control.
Nearly fifty years ago, If… took a scalpel to British education, town vs gown, snobbery, elitism, and class in general, using largely allegorical methods. By comparison, the anger that drives the film’s makers seems to have made them lose focus, and The Riot Club emerges as a blunt instrument. It feels like a tabloid rant, using crude rhetoric and caricature in place of well-fleshed out characterisation.