[ Director: Lone Scherfig; Screenwriter: Laura Wade; Starring: Sam Claflin, Max Irons, Douglas Booth, Holliday Grainger, Sam Reid, Tom Hollander, Jessica Brown Findlay, Olly Alexander, Natalie Dormer, Freddie Fox; Running time: 107 minutes; Certification: 15 ]
While I can’t claim to be well-versed with either, watching The Riot Club felt like watching a particularly ill-mannered episode of Come Dine With Me meets Made In Chelsea. A bunch of posh yahs strutting around Oxford acting like idiots, blindly causing damage and carnage wherever they go before going to a dinner in a nice small town pub and causing, shall we say, a scene. On this evidence it would be easy to dismiss the film outright, so perhaps it’s actually a testament to how well Lone Scherfig has put it together that, despite hating almost every main character, we don’t despise every second of it.
And the characters are utterly contemptible. The eponymous Riot Club, a supposedly elite Oxford group continued down through the generations since its inception with the death of Lord Ryot in the 1700s, consists of ten members – nine of whom we hate. Their basic principle is pretty much what it says on the tin; to be rambunctious, to do whatever they like, to take whatever they like, and, during their ceremonial dinner, to stuff themselves to bursting point with food and alcohol and exceed all known levels of debauchery. To riot. They’re sexist, selfish, irresponsible, idiotic and cruel, and I hated them – but that’s not to say there aren’t some terrific performances. Sam Claflin, despite playing a monumental arsebiscuit, deserves huge credit for putting in a performance we can appreciate as much as hate. As one of the two new members, he’s also the most despicable (which is really saying something) as jealousy and illusions of grandeur get the better of him.
So how does Scherfig come out with a film that isn’t eye-gougingly horrible? Simple; she understands that we’re supposed to hate these characters. That’s kind of the whole point; it’s a story of greed and excess, not students in unfortunate circumstances. At no stage do we feel like we’re being led to their side, it’s always a case of the film saying, “You thought that was bad? Look at what they’ll do next!”. Which is why Miles (Irons) is the most welcome character, because he’s the only one we can actually relate to. During the dinner, as the club’s exploits begin to go too far, Miles is the one who starts to question what they’re doing, acting as something of a lifeboat for the audience as the debauchery reaches unspeakable levels. We’re not completely alone at sea with him there.
That dinner scene, in which everything begins to boil up to dangerous levels, is one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve seen in a long time – but uncomfortably gripping. Scherfig paces it just right, building up suspense and foreboding to the point that we almost can’t take any more, before ripping the lid off to reveal one of the most genuinely shocking moments of recent cinema (that was ruined by the trailer). You might just like The Riot Club as much as you hate it.