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Let England Shake

Universal Studios

The Riot Club (2014)

"The Riot Club" wants to mortify and astonish, presenting a bunch of Oxford University's finest on an apocalyptic privilege-fueled binge through a country pub which leaves no prole uninsulted, no woman unmistreated and one well-meaning innocent on a saline drip for the crime of social climbing. But the satire is surely old news, certainly for anyone primed by the gloriously awful old photo of David Cameron and pals in the preening outfits of the Bullingdon Club, an image that no copyright lawyer can now stake through the heart — the film recreates a version of it, just in case. Most of Lone Scherfig's movie is spent shaking the English establishment so warmly by the throat that it summons up Monty Python's "Upper-Class Twit of the Year" as much as anything else.

So we have conflict between nominally decent twit Miles (Max Irons, a chip off the old block) and a hoard of more venal and authentically posh twits, none more cold-blooded than Alistair (Sam Claflin, icy enough to suggest a Bond villain if Toby Stephens hadn't already tried the template on for size). The others get roughly one defining characteristic each: not strictly English twit; blond twit; a pair of nearly twin twits — the hazards of turning a theatrical production into a film. Laura Wade opens out her own play, "Posh," with an introduction that suggests Alistair is a victim of nurture at least as much as nature; but her rejigged coda is moderately outrageous, a heavy-handed capitulation.

In between, an argument that has no conclusion beyond the obvious one gets worked over; and the actors start to tread water. Natalie Dormer does best; stalking on in heels, surveying the twits with majestic disdain and stalking off the film again five minutes later. Ms. Wade and Ms. Scherfig invite you to spot that the rest of us have no such get-out clause, short of revolution; but anyone who has ever ducked a beer glass thrown by someone not wearing a tailcoat might suspect that the problems are a bit more complex than that.


Opens on Sept. 19 in Britain and on March 27, 2015 in the United Staes

Directed by Lone Scherfig; written by Laura Wade, based on her play “Posh”; director of photography, Sebastian Blenkov; edited by Jake Roberts; production design by Alice Normington; costumes by Steve Noble; produced by Graham Broadbent and Pete Czernin; released by United States (Britain) and IFC Films (United States). Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes. This film is rated 15 by B.B.F.C. and R by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Sam Claflin (Alistair), Max Irons (Miles), Douglas Booth (Harry), Sam Reid (Hugo), Ben Schnetzer (Dimitri), Jack Farthing (George), Matthew Beard (Guy), Freddie Fox (James), Josh O’Connor (Ed), Olly Alexander (Toby), Jessica Brown Findlay (Rachel), Holliday Grainger (Lauren) and Natalie Dormer (Claire).


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