Life’s a riot for the boys with the inside track
THE RIOT CLUB Directed by Lone Scherfig Starring Max Irons, Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth, Holliday Grainger, Sam Reid, Freddie Fox, Ben Schnetzer, Tom Hollander “You love me,” sneers Sam Claflin’s hateful Hooray Henry into the face of a country pub landlord. Claflin’s Alistair is arguably the worst of a very bad lot: he loathes the NHS, pours scorn on aspiration and gets his peers riled up with a Masters of the Universe speech. And yet he’s quite correct.
Danish director Lone Scherfig ( An Education) has already demonstrated a keen outsider’s understanding of British society. Working from Laura Wade’s hit 2010 play Posh, the film-maker cleverly conveys the kind of Stockholm Syndrome that ensures the continuation of the class structure. The Riot Club is exclusively populated by the ruling elite, young men who can buy their way out of any scrape, and will some day march through the corridors of power, regardless.
As with the original play, the new film is inspired by David Cameron, Boris Johnson and George Osborne’s Bullingdon Club. It features a group of obnoxious young Oxonians on a typical toffs night out, an evening of debauchery and a 10-bird roast.
A prologue introduces Lord Riot, a 17th-century hedonist whose taste for saucy wenches gets him killed. As with the dining club named in his honour, there’s an undeniable appeal to his bad-boy antics, a perverse charm that’s written into every irresponsible act perpetrated by his contemporary successors.
Among these, Miles (Max Irons) looks like a good egg: he may have “honourable” attached to his name, but he also has a “boot-strappy” girlfriend (Grainger) and a modicum of good manners.
But will Miles have the decency to stick up to his peers when all hell breaks loose? His hazing session suggests otherwise. The Riot Club can’t always transcend its theatrical origins, but there’s a nasty sting lurking under all those high spirits and all these pretty people ( The Host’s Irons, Hunger Games’s Claflin, Romeo and Juliet’s Booth).