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Film Review: The Riot Club

19th September 2014

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The big screen adaptation of Laura Wade’s 2010 West End play Posh is inexplicitly based on Oxford University’s notorious Bullingdon Club (former members include David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson), an elite group of male students whose social status and wealth put them at the self-appointed top of the university tree.

Taking a play that holds frequent moments of humour, usually via the musical numbers that make its satire clear and in turn help us to feel that its central characters are ridiculous and deliberately stereotyped, and turning it into a serious and affecting piece of cinema is obviously a challenge.

However, with a script penned by Wade herself and direction by Lone Sherfig, The Riot Club takes its source material to a different plain – less laugh-out-loud funny, more dramatic in both visual and narrative, and overall more affecting. The Riot Club does not attempt to move Posh directly onto the screen; instead it adapts it into its own being, with its own cinematic purposes, and it is much better for it.

The extremely pretty young cast work together well, and there is a strong chemistry between lead character Miles and his love interest Lauren that makes us root for the couple from the beginning - despite the disturbing events that unfold. The work of Max Irons and Holliday Grainger (pictured) in making this relationship appear so genuine is one of the standout points of the film.

Characterisation-wise we do feel for Miles, a naive and easily led fresher, who despite his Westminster education, very privileged existence and induction into the Riot Club has clear socialist leanings and a strong moral compass that is skewed only by the intensely pressured situation that he finds himself in.

Sam Claflin, as Miles’ bitter and equally easily-led fellow new Riot Club recruit Alistair, also puts in a stellar performance, allowing us to feel both disgust and (occasionally) sympathy for his disgruntled young man. In his behaviour, Alistair could be seen as a microcosm – a man to represent a huge number of others who, once alleviated to power and status, find their new position too much to responsibly deal with.

Some have said that The Riot Club doesn’t go far enough in its destruction, but I’d take issue with this. We might be desensitised by violence that we see every day, but this shouldn’t dilute the events of this particular film – there are moments that are still shocking; one dining room scene in particular leaves the audience feeling decidedly uncomfortable – as it was written to do. The cast, in fact, have spoken about how, as a result of their research, they had to step up the levels of destruction and violence that they brought to the table, which should give us further food for thought.

Read our interview with The Riot’s Club’s Douglas Booth, who plays aristocratic club member Harry Villiers, here.

The Riot Club is out today.

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