×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto Film Review: ‘The Riot Club’

'An Education' director Lone Scherfig offers another tough life lesson, this one exposing the gross misconduct within an Oxford private dining society.

With:
Sam Claflin, Max Irons, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Ben Schnetzer, Jack Farthing, Matthew Beard, Freddie Fox, Josh O’Connor, Olly Alexander, Jessica Brown Findlay, Holliday Grainger, Natalie Dormer, Tom Holliday.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2717860/

At Oxford, there are classes you take and classes you are born into, and Lone Scherfig’s “The Riot Club,” adapted from Laura Wade’s play “Posh,” is concerned only with the latter — specifically, a group of 10 elite students who went to England’s top schools, descend from the richest families and carry the country’s best blood. It’s enough to make anyone else’s blood boil, which is the deliciously masochistic pleasure auds can expect from watching these pretty, privileged young men — the entitled British cousins of what Tom Wolfe called “Masters of the Universe” — band together and misbehave.

Like her 2009 feature, “An Education,” Scherfig’s latest deals with lessons that can’t be learned in classrooms, but only by narrowly surviving certain life mistakes. Here, it’s two first-year male students, rather than a naive young woman, being seduced and corrupted by a system their grandparents assembled. Much is made about legacy, lineage and the carrying on of certain traditions, though the parental pressure never seems a burden here, the way it is in “Dead Poets Society” and other American pics, where more is made of personal independence.

In the rarefied bubble of British private societies, all men are not created equal. Some — like Alistair (Sam Claflin, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”), kid brother of a former Riot Club president — are born inherently better than others. Others, unfairly privileged with charisma and looks, “have it in them to be a fuckin’ legend.” The latter describes the more middle-class Miles (“The Host’s” Max Irons), who attracts the attention of the Riot Club’s resident gay member, earning a nomination to join the ultra-exclusive group that way.

Like a poncier version of American fraternities, the group hazes its invitation-only pledges, making for a rowdy first stretch. The pic trades in both the fantasy and nightmarish aspects of university social worlds where exclusivity is the draw — as seen in everything from “The Skulls” to “The Social Network,” and shot here in a similar elegant style of cool blues, velvet coats and wood paneling. We naturally crave entree into enclaves we can’t necessarily access ourselves, just as it’s only normal to want to see the egos at the top brought to their knees, and Scherfig offers both to audiences craving scandal as well as smarts (meaning, it could potentially play to teens and arthouse crowds).

In Wade’s script, the fictional Riot Club was named for its founding hedonist, seen in saucy flashback, rather than the group’s general spirit of misbehavior, although the line between the two is razor-thin. After Lord Riot was murdered for seducing a professor’s wife, his peers established a private dining society in his honor, planning an annual meal in which the tradition was to indulge as extravagantly as possible before tearing apart the unlucky establishment they’d hired out for the purpose, fully planning to pay for the damages when they were done.

During the initiation segment of the film, Scherfig relies on Miles as her relatable audience proxy — less entitled and a bit more mature than his spoiled cohorts — though by the end, most people would be happy to see the whole group disbanded. Having gotten some of his oats-sowing out of the way already, Miles is evidently ready to handle a more respectable relationship with “bootstrappy” g.f. Lauren (Holliday Grainger). The other members find nothing odd about sharing an escort between them (though the escort has other plans, resulting in one of the rare scenes where a character manages to avoid the humiliation the group has planned for her).

“Hasn’t anyone noticed how massively homoerotic this is?” asks Lauren, observing how one of the school’s sports teams behaves in a local bar, though she might as well be speaking about the entire U.K. educational system, where — if the film can be taken as any sort of indication — boarding-school boys can hardly keep their testosterone to themselves. That attitude sparks genuine concern for any of the female characters, whom these lads routinely objectify, viewing them as just another commodity. The same goes for their freedom when things go seriously over the line. A well-placed Riot Club alum (Tom Hollander) affectionately refers to such incidents as “scrapes,” regaling the boys with stories from his day, which are nothing compared with the trouble in store here — effective, though clearly rigged to prove the movie’s pre-existing view of such orgs.

Brits might object to such an enraging portrayal, which veers between salacious and cynical, though Scherfig’s unique perspective is just one more reason she was such a smart choice to handle this material. Owing to both her Danish background and her gender, Scherfig approaches the milieu with shrewd anthropological wit, amplifying Wade’s research with her own keen outsider insights — this on top of an expert grasp of tension and tone as the club’s initial allure turns to anxiety and disgust. So these model-beautiful monsters think they’re better than everyone else? Let’s see how they like having their class dismissed.

Toronto Film Review: 'The Riot Club'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Galas), Sept. 6, 2014. Running time: 107 MIN.

Production: (U.K.) A HanWay Films, BFI Films, Pinewood presentation and production, in association with Universal Pictures Intl., Pinewood Pictures. (International sales: Hanway Films, London.) Produced by Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin.

Crew: Directed by Lone Scherfig. Screenplay, Laura Wade, based on her play “Posh.” Camera (color, widescreen), Sebastian Blenkov; editor, Jake Roberts; executive music producer, James Gibb; production designer, Alice Normington; art director, Julian Nix; costume designer, Steven Noble; sound (Dolby Digital), Ray Beckett; sound designer/supervising sound editor, Glenn Freemantle; re-recording mixer, Brandon Nicholson, Andrew Caller; stunt coordinator, Jo McLaren; assistant director, Deboran Saban; casting, Lucy Bevan.

With: Sam Claflin, Max Irons, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Ben Schnetzer, Jack Farthing, Matthew Beard, Freddie Fox, Josh O’Connor, Olly Alexander, Jessica Brown Findlay, Holliday Grainger, Natalie Dormer, Tom Holliday.

More Film

  • FilmNation logo

    FilmNation Promotes Ashley Fox, Brad Zimmerman to SVP of Production (EXCLUSIVE)

    FilmNation Entertainment, the independent studio behind “Arrival” and “Room,” has promoted Ashley Fox and Brad Zimmerman to senior VPs of production. The pair will source and develop material that can be transformed into movies and will oversee film productions on behalf of the company. They will continue to report to Ben Browning, FilmNation’s president of [...]

  • Chinese artist Ai Weiwei poses after

    Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei Accuses 'I Love You, Berlin' Producers of Censorship

    The executive producer of anthology film “Berlin, I Love You” is engaged in a war of words with Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, whose contribution to the movie was left on the cutting-room floor. Ai contends that the segment he shot for “Berlin, I Love You” was axed by the producers for political reasons, out [...]

  • Oscars Nominees Popular Movies

    Oscar Best Picture Race Dominated by Box Office Winners

    This year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ ill-fated popular film Oscar category could have just as easily been dubbed “best picture.” That’s because the crop of movies vying to take home the top prize represents the highest-grossing group of best picture nominees in nearly a decade. The eight films in the category [...]

  • Isabela Moner Marcel Ruiz Rosa Salazar

    Variety Announces 10 Latinxs to Watch 2019

    Variety has announced this year’s 10 Latinxs to Watch, and has also selected the Miami Film Festival as a partner for the annual celebration of promising talent in the Latino community that will include a panel and film screenings. This year’s honorees are Isabela Moner (“Dora the Explorer”), Rosa Salazar (“Alita: Battle Angel,” “Bird Box”), [...]

  • New Regency Launches U.K.-Based International TV

    New Regency Launches International TV Division With Scott Free Alum Ed Rubin

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” co-producer New Regency has launched a London-based international TV division, recruiting former Scott Free exec Ed Rubin to run the new operation and hiring Emma Broughton from The Ink Factory (“The Night Manager”) as head of scripted. New Regency produced “The Revenant,” “12 Years a Slave” and “Birdman.” It recently opened up shop [...]

  • Kate Bosworth'Nona' film premiere, New York,

    Kate Bosworth Helps Launch Campaign for Female Filmmakers

    In her 20-year career in Hollywood, Kate Bosworth has starred in blockbusters like “Superman Returns” as well as indie darlings like 2014’s “Still Alice.” But the actress has always had a desire to get more involved from the ground up. Now, she is partnering with Women In Film and Chloe Wine Collection to launch the [...]

  • Black Panther

    'Black Panther,' 'Crazy Rich Asians,' 'Westworld' Among Costume Designers Guild Winners

    “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Favourite” and “Black Panther” walked away with top honors at the 21st annual Costume Designers Guild Awards Tuesday night, the final industry guild show before the Oscars on Feb. 24. “The Favourite” and “Black Panther” are up for the Oscar this year, along with “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” “Mary Poppins [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content