Adapting her hit 2010 Royal Court play Posh for the screen, Laura Wade takes another satirical swipe at Oxford’s Bullingdon Club, the elite, tailcoated dining clique whose restaurant-trashing excesses have made it a byword for toffish yobbery, much to the embarrassment of past members David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson.
Wade’s fictional version of the Bullingdon, the Riot Club, doesn’t stint on the debauchery, either, but when it is such chiselled-jawed, floppy-haired hunks as Max Irons, Sam Claflin and Douglas Booth acting out the dissipation, their revels can’t help acquiring a spurious glamour. Yet the fact that the viewer might be both repelled and seduced actually works in the story’s favour, creating dramatic tension that would be missing were this simply class-envy agitprop.
Wade and director Lone Scherfig (An Education) have opened the play up, allowing for scenes of toffs swanking around Oxford’s dreaming spires in an open-topped Aston Martin and providing a love interest for the film’s moderately sympathetic protagonist, Miles (Irons), in the form of Holliday Grainger’s working-class, comprehensive-educated Lauren. Miles is one of two prospective Riot Club recruits, and his pangs of conscience make a sharp contrast to the sneering prole hatred of his fellow club novice, Claflin’s venomous sociopath Alistair.
The pair’s rivalry comes to a head when the club hires a private dining room in a country gastro pub for its latest bash, planning to get epically drunk and smash the place up. Plebs get plastered. Flaunting their wealth and flouting the rules, these posh boys get ‘chateaued’.
They think they’re being charmingly louche. The reality, notwithstanding the chiselled jaws and floppy hair, is horrifyingly vicious. For Wade and Scherfig, though, the true horror isn’t the violence committed by these arrogant young bucks but the fact that their privileged backgrounds and connections insulate them from the consequences of their actions and ensure they remain on the fast track to power. The message is about as subtle as a blow to the head from a polo mallet. Sometimes the truth hurts.
Certificate 15. Runtime 107 mins. Director Lone Scherfig.
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