The Riot Club has potential to be a great film, had it chosen to be either a subtle social-realist drama or an exaggerated caricature, in A Clockwork Orange or Lord of the Flies dystopian kind of way. However it chooses to be neither, and falls a bit flat in between. The plot in theory has all the makings of an engaging film, and indeed the play Posh on which it is based received great critical acclaim, however this was perhaps partially due to timing – its 2010 release coincided with the General Election but unfortunately the subtlety of the play does not translate well to the big screen. The film seems too caught up in trying to make the characters as unlikeable as possible; they forget to make them believable. Admittedly, the rather disturbing climax of the film, the club dinner, gives a reality check both on screen and in the audience, the brutality shown breaks the caricatures initially presented to us, as it is unfortunately the only scene where we can believe people doing these things. As for the timing of the film’s release, it is perhaps unfortunate that the vision of a large group of upper class Brits assaulting a Scottish landlord comes just after Scotland was voted to remain a part of Britain, and indeed it would make any Brit slightly ashamed that some of the leading MPs of their country were ever a part of a similar society. The setting in Oxford has clear associations with The Bullingdon Club, of which David Cameron, Boris Johnson and George Osborne were known members.
It would of course be unfair to compare these men to the verging-on-homicidal Alistair (Sam Claflin) of the film, however comparisons have and will be made regarding the fact that despite his ‘misdemeanors’, Claflin’s character is offered security and a future at the end of the film, through the aid of an old Riot club member. Ex-Bullingdon members would of course have been a part of some kind of scandal in their time, it is possible that they were party to one as horrible as that depicted in the film, the point that they have the potential to cover up such events, backed by money and connections, is a frightening one. One notable ex-member of the Bullingdon is Darius Guppy, a businessman who achieved tabloid fame when he assaulted a journalist who he claimed insulted his wife. The incident consisted of Guppy flying from Cape Town to London to lie in wait for the offender, knocking him to the ground and pouring horse manure over him. Though Guppy is an exception in the fact that these actions happened long after he’d left the gates of Oxford, it does not seem implausible that something similar could not have occurred within the secrecy of the club.
It is also a clear point of frustration that despite acts of vandalism or assault, members of drinking clubs are not expelled due to the need for their funds, or simply because the university worries it would tarnish their reputation. The fact that ex-members have found their way into high positions has also not escaped the notice of many people, however to brand each ex-member with nepotism is perhaps unfair; the attainment of such sought-after jobs is viewed as suspicious if achieved by someone with well-connected family and funds. Politics is hardly the only strain of jobs that evidence nepotism, perhaps we wouldn’t care so much if they did not already have so much wealth to their names. The instances of connections being given importance over actual skill is prevalent in all strands of society, yet it is frowned upon most among the upper class, sometimes to the point of ignoring any skill evidenced. The Riot Club itself boasts lead actors who have some sort of connection to film, for example the lead, Max Irons is the son of Jeremy Irons, while a secondary character is played by Freddie Fox, son to Edward Fox. It is of course possible that the actors got in through their own talent, and indeed both give fairly sound performances. It is equally possible that the leading MPs of Britain are intelligent, capable men. However The Riot Club fails to truly represent any of these points, and so we are left with only the unsettling image of the assault scene, and the belief that anyone who goes to Oxford must speak like a character out of Enid Blyton.