Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Review: The Riot Club

World of Blackout Film Review

The Riot Club (aka Posh) Poster

The Riot Club (aka Posh)
Cert: 15 / 107 mins / Dir. Lone Scherfig
WoB Rating: 5/7

If you live in the UK, Lone Scherfig's The Riot Club (adapted from Laura Wade's Posh) needs little in the way of introduction. Set against a highly fictionalised (one would hope) version of the now infamous Bullingdon Club at Oxford University, the film explores power, privilege and influence in 21st century Britain. It's also about four years too late*1. While the film puts its ideas and arguments across passionately, they aren't particularly new, and they're all espoused in either bold text or capital letters as broadly-painted partisan characters hammer their points home pretty relentlessly.

But it's that energy which keeps the whole film afloat, captured by some magnificent performances (and chiefly by the members of the club itself). Max Irons plants his flag as the most interesting character in the film, Miles, and Sam Reid, Douglas Booth, Freddie Fox and Ben Schnetzer support ably with varying levels of smugness, entitlement and self-doubt. But it's Sam Claflin who steals the show as the dastardly Alistair, in a magnificent display of unrighteous ire which will have people shouting at him in the street for some time to come. Jessica Brown Findlay and Holliday Grainger fare a little less well as Rachel and Lauren respectively, with their roles being reduced to pretty much one opinion and/or facial expression. Admittedly, the film is told from the boys' point of view, but that's no reason to have such one-dimensional female characters, surely? (Natalie Dormer's Charlie falls into a similar trap, but has the getout clause of at least being an incidental character)

The film opens with a short period-segment showing the establishment of the club itself in 1776, which feels ironically anachronistic in a present-day film, and everything between the opening credits and the final scene in shiny-London looks like it's been filmed in Hogwarts. As is frequently the case with camerawork in Oxford*2, many shots have been tightly positioned to give the impression of a leafy, sandstoned, oak-panelled world which doesn't actually exist any more. Although in fairness, exactly the same thing can be said of the screenplay. It also feels a little unfinished with only Claflin's Alistair getting any kind of narrative closure, which seems unbalanced as the film had been more Miles' story until that point. I can see how the ending would be ideal for the stage-version, but I'm not convinced enough adaptation was put into the screen iteration.

The Riot Club's stage-roots could go some way to explaining why it often feels like a pantomime, but watch for the performances rather than the politics and there's much to enjoy.

Is the trailer representative of the film?
For the most part, yes.

Did I laugh, cry, gasp and sigh when I was supposed to?
Not quite as much as was intended, I think.

Does it achieve what it sets out to do?
I don't think it quite does.

Pay at the cinema, Rent on DVD or just wait for it to be on the telly?
It's already fairly televisual in places, so watching it at home will be fine, but catch it on Orange Wednesdays for the big screen.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Will I watch it again?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream?
There isn't.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

And my question for YOU is…
An elitist institution in one of the world's oldest universities wouldn't get their super-exclusive hip flasks screen-printed though, would they? They'd have them engraved. Was the budget really that tight? Jeez, I know a guy who can get you a good deal on laser engraving, if you're struggling?

The Riot Club: Using cheap, printed hip-flasks since 1776. Because you can't BUY class.

*1 The stage play the film is based on, Posh debuted in 2010, riding a lot closer to the zeitgeist, to be fair.
*2 Although filming also took place in Hertfordshire and Hampshire, but the same principles apply.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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