TORONTO (Reuters) - British class and privilege are seldom associated with hooliganism and uncontrolled violence, but Danish director Lone Scherfig pairs the two in a new film about the debauched excesses of an exclusive Oxford University dining club.
“The Riot Club,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, is a story inspired by the elite dining societies of Oxford and Cambridge.
“We’ve seen plenty of films about football hooliganism and the working class. I think we need to have a look into this world too,” Max Irons, who portrays one of the club’s members, told Reuters. “Class is just so deeply, deeply ingrained unfortunately in England.”
While fictitious, the movie’s namesake club has parallels with real-life counterparts such as Oxford’s Bullingdon Club, which British media report counts British Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, and the mayor of London as former members.
Based on Laura Wade’s play, “Posh”, the film centers on Miles Richards (Irons) and Alistair Ryle, two wealthy young men entering university who are offered membership into the very exclusive club. Many of its 10 members come from some of Britain’s bluest bloodlines.
The two new initiates are very different. While both are privileged, Ryle is an angry outsider with an unhappy family life who lives in his older brother’s shadow. Richards is sociable and laid back. Tensions between them rise quickly.
Like the play, the movie centers on an evening of debauchery at a village pub that spirals out of control, leaving the members to battle about who should suffer the consequences.
The film ends as it might in real life, imperfectly, even though Scherfig said it was a struggle to not take the more “crowd-pleasing” path.
“You cannot be faithful to the premise and then have everything end in harmony. Because it is a portrait of ... Britain’s class system. And that is not something that is in harmony,” said Scherfig, who also directed the 2009 Oscar-nominated coming-of-age film “An Education.”
Sam Claflin, who as Ryle takes a very different turn from his character in the “Hunger Games”, was drawn to the script because it depicted a world alien to his own experience.
“My upbringing was very humble and there was no privilege whatsoever,” Claflin told Reuters. “This world really intrigued me.”
Scherfig said there was a lot of attention over whether a Danish director could make a film about British society, but it has already received some positive notices.
Variety has written that 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.”
Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Andre Grenon