Based on the play POSH and adapted by the screenwriter herself, Laura Wade, the film charts the journey of two of the elite of Oxford University as they become part of The Riot Club, an exclusive, prestigious, morally questionable club.
It’s a distant world for quite a few of us – a world where money and position can hide the worst of excesses and make everything seem excusable and it’s a struggle to accept this as anything but a work of fiction.
Led by Max Irons, Holliday Grainger and Sam Claflin, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the cast – they all embody the dislikeable characters that they play and they all appear to be resoundingly posh, arrogant, yet still charismatic. Grainger, as Lauren, is the accent that stands out the most – broad, Northern and down to earth – who is drawn into Miles’ (Irons) new world and watching how hateful a place it is.
“We’re historians, not guests on Newsnight.”
Disgusted that he’s not allowed to exploit his base desires, Alistair leads the rest of the club to abuse the hospitality of their host, wrecking his pub before delivering his own socially privileged retribution.
The violence leads to arrests and the true nature of their solidarity is brought to bear. As they try to hide their behaviour, loyalties are tested, friendships are wrecked and the truth is revealed as a loose concept where reputation is concerned.
If the larger events seem far fetched, there are parts where the characters are humanised – conversations about life, love and money – feel much more tangible. Despite the wealth, they are people, yet detached from the reality most of us face. Being born into privilege has its own disadvantages and for all their financial freedom, they’re trapped by it.
“It’s our time, gentlemen.”
Wade is making a point – that money corrupts – but the revelations since she wrote the play in 2010 have made this seem less striking – The Bullingdon Club, MP expenses, tax avoidance amongst the super rich, the ability for public figures to hide their crimes and collude to hide others; it’s reduced The Riot Club to a fictionalisation of reality that now seems less shocking and more a reinforcement of excess.
The Riot Club isn’t a terrible film – it is buoyed by convincing leads – it’s just a film that feels like it should be a play. The History Boys, as an example, transferred from stage to screen with fluidity, whereas The Riot Club doesn’t make the best of its on location potential. The exploration of the fallout doesn’t feel as far reaching – either for its undermining of due process or the impact upon reputation – as it should be, falling flat at the final hurdle.