Film review: The Riot Club (2014)

The Riot Club, 2014

Directed by Lone Scherfig.
Starring Sam Claflin, Max Irons, Douglas Booth, Holliday Grainger, Olly Alexander, Jessica Brown Findlay, Ben Schnetzer, Tom Hollander, Sam Reid, Freddie Fox, Natalie Dormer, Sam Reid, Jack Farthing and Matthew Beard.

The Riot Club poster


Two freshers at Oxford University are selected to be part of an elite dining society, reserved only for ‘absolute legends’: The Riot Club, named after a legendary philanderer, debaucher and debonair, 1700s Oxford student Lord Ryot (surprise uncredited cameo by Game of Thrones Harry Lloyd). The aim: to drink oneself senseless, to have no restrictions, and to have fun at whatever the cost. No consequence is too severe, as money is not an issue amongst its members. It’s lucrative hedonism at its very finest and most extreme, and Miles (Max Irons) and Alistair (Sam Claflin) are having the time of their lives – right until the moment one fancy pub dinner escalates into a night of drugs, sex, and violence, with catastrophic consequences for all.

The Riot Club screencap 1

We are invited to watch the story through the eyes of Miles (a fantastically on-point Max Irons), who while quite posh seems to have a surprisingly casual attitude towards both the class he belongs in and the money he comes from. He meets and falls for Lauren (The Borgias’ Holliday Grainger), a simple Northern girl, around the same time he is invited to join The Riot Club for nights of endless drinking and destruction of both public and private property. His tutoring partner, Alistair, played by The Hunger Games’ Sam Claflin in what can only be described as a career-making performance, is invited alongside him. Desperately wanting to escape the shadow of his overbearingly posh father and older brother, Alistair sees his new status as Riot Club recruit as his golden ticket.

And he’s right, in a way—despite the disastrous antics of the yearly Club dinner, it is his zealous classism and far right politics in combination with his Club membership that land him in an unexpected spot right at the very end (no spoilers!). While not the protagonist, it is Alistair’s journey that drives the plot forward and allows us to delve deeper into the psyche of the other half—and boy, it’s quite a ride.

From the suave Hugo (Belle’s Sam Reid) and the awkward Toby (Olly Alexander, Penny Dreadful) and George (Josh Oconnor), to the exuberantly wealthy Greek Dimitri (Ben Schnetzer, The Book Thief) and the aloof incumbent president James (Freddie Fox, Parade’s End), the rest of the Club is as boisterous as it sounds. Alistair becomes close with Harry (Douglas Booth, Romeo and Juliet) whose uncle Jeremy (Tom Hollander, Rev.), himself a former member of the Riot Club in his student days, has serious political ties with the Tory party.

While youthful, fun and full of attractive people, The Riot Club does not attempt to mask its true purpose: to parody existing dining societies at Oxbridge colleges (The Bullingdon Club definitely comes to mind), and to make a statement about the class war and politics of Britain. It’s Jeremy who points out that the Club is in fact not at all a student dining society, but a club where membership means political and financial connections for life, by the rich and powerful for the very same.The lavish crassness of the members’ behaviour and the shockingly cavalier attitude most of them seem to have about trashing things and treating poorer people like dirt makes tremendous impact, though not at the expense of excellent character-driven drama and emotion.

Based on Laura Wade’s own critically acclaimed play POSH, which premiered at the Royal Court Theatre to many an accolade (and outcries from Tory MPs and affiliates) in the middle of the general elections in 2010, with a screenplay that leaves no stone unturned and no moment wasted, and with absolutely smashing performances and an ending that’ll make your stomach turn for better or worse, The Riot Club is definitely worth your time and money.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★

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