“The Riot Club” is a story of excess, contempt and aristocratic entitlement. Based on the play “Posh” by Laura Wade it centers around a fictional version Oxford University’s Bullingdon or Riot Club, a two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old drinking fraternity.
The film doesn’t come with an “Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental,” disclaimer, probably much to the chagrin of former real-life members, Prime Minister David Cameron and Mayor of London Boris Johnson.
The bulk of the movie takes place at an elaborate dinner in the backroom of a gastropub. Two first year students, ‘Milo’ Richards (Max Irons) and Alistair Ryle (Sam Claflin) are inducted into the legendarily elite club. It’s all debauched fun and games until a few perceived slights—a “ten bird roast” arrives with only nine layers and a hired call girl declines their requests—ignites a drunken, violent response.
Director Lone Scherfig takes her time getting to the meat of the matter. Setting the scene gives us a sense of time and place but feels unnecessary in terms of making the larger point of the insulation from consequences privilege can provide. Perhaps it’s a way to enrich the ham-handed message—is it really such a surprise that ultra-rich yobs can behave pretty much however they like?—or the cartoonish climax but it doesn’t add much dramatically.
The large ensemble—it’s a who’s who of young English actors, including Douglas Booth, Natalie Dormer and Jessica Brown Findlay—hold it together admirably but the story of class warfare might have been stronger if there were a few more skirmishes along the way.