Transferring from a successful run on the London stage, “The Riot Club” brings its sneering swipe at the corrupt and privileged elite to the big screen with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Despite dropping its more on-the-nose stage sobriquet “Posh”, it nonetheless retains much of its venom as it seeks to expose the decadence which wealth and privilege bring.
The eponymous Riot Club is a secret, exclusive society at Oxford University, of which there are only ten members at any one time. As the film begins, the club is actively seeking two new members and first year students Miles (Max Irons) and Alistair (Sam Clafin) seem to fit the bill. However, Miles’ left wing politics and burgeoning relationship with a Northern working class student exposes the group to frictions and tension which all come to a head at a fateful club dinner.
While it may have felt edgy on stage, the screen adaptation is simply too broad and too blunt to be an effective satire or a revelatory social commentary. Rather than complex, three dimensional characters, the Riot club are presented as an impossibly pretty group of young men who veer unevenly between cartoonish villainy and Westerosian levels of debauchery.
The simplicity of its political discourse (right wing/ rich = always evil, left wing/ poor = always virtuous) undermine the authenticity of its story, which isn’t particularly deep to begin with, and leave the film feeling flat and stagey. While the cast are good value, whether lounging around like a louche and effete boyband or chewing the scenery with clumsily obvious dialogue like ‘I’m sick to fucking death… of poor people!’, it’s all a bit trite and predictable. At least Natalie Dormer manages to give it a spark of life during her blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo.
Mired in cliché, constrained by a disingenuous bias and saddled with a hateful and unsympathetic bunch of characters, this drama fails to skewer its target and instead veers off into the kind of freak show effrontery and gawping incredulity that has made celebrities out of the likes of Paris Hilton and the Kardashians.