The world of a group of rich-and-spoilt undergraduates in The Riot Club is perversely painted in money and they don't give a damn.
The explosive drama of The Riot Club is an emotional journey into the world of corrupted minds where perverse violence rules their morality.
Based on Laura Wade's hit play, the film tells the story of an exclusive Oxford University undergraduate dining society. At the beginning of a new term new, candidates are selected to join the group and when Miles (Max Irons) joins them his world is turned inside out as their insane egocentricity runs wild and they rebel against convention.
In the tradition of A Clockwork Orange, The Riot Club explores the excess of violence in an idyllic world, where malevolent evil corrupts sensible human nature and turns ordinary young men into monstrosities.
Posh English society
It takes you into the heart of posh English upper-class society and, ultimately, reveals the dark soul of its lonely worshippers. The Riot Club is not a film about violence, but a poignant coming-of-age story, showing how easily innocence and first love can be corrupted and violated.
"I think we are fascinated by that class, those of us who aren't of it and I think we love watching rich people behaving badly. It has a sort of grisly fascination for us - to be able to experience a world that we are not in ourselves," says Wade, who adapted her play for the big screen.
"There is an idea in the play that the boys that we are watching, although they are still at university, are the kind of people who will go on to hold positions of power in various different establishments, they are the people who may find themselves high up in government or banking or in law. I suppose the question is how much of who you are when you are that age remains when you are older, or is it just young people getting something out of their system."
Wade started working on the play Posh in 2007, when she began a research project into young, wealthy people living in London.
During the course of the project she became interested in the Oxford and Cambridge dining societies that were made up of very wealthy young men and explains: "I was struck by the idea of these very exclusive clubs that were very selective and had all of their own rituals and traditions. The idea that a major tradition would be to have a huge dinner at the end of each term, and that one of the clubs in particular had a tradition of smashing up a restaurant where they held their dinner, and paying for the damage afterwards, was the story that I really got hooked on, because it felt like a really interesting metaphor for something bigger. Being a woman was a handicap to ever belonging in a club like that, and I didn't go to Oxford or Cambridge so it is not something I ever got invited to anyway, and I'm certainly not from that class, so for me it was like a secret world that I wanted to look into and find out what went on behind that door that was closed to me."
Wade's research was hampered by the fact that many of the clubs had a code that meant that nobody would happily be interviewed.
"You can't always get people to talk very openly about what went on, especially when people know that you are researching to write a play about something. But for me that was actually rather freeing because it meant that I had room to make stuff up. I didn't want a documentary on a real club; I wanted to create a club that could have a life of its own and one that didn't need to be beholden to any kind of accuracy or truth. Hopefully it will feel right, but the Riot Club in the film could have its own rituals and history and some of the most fun things in the writing of it was making those things up."
The play was first performed in 2010 at the Royal Court Theatre and in 2012 it moved to London's West End, while Wade had started writing the screenplay.
Director Lone Scherfig, who previously directed An Education, which also explored English class and society, never allows her presence to destroy the fabric of the drama, but sensibly allows the story and its rich characters to speak for itself.
Quirks of Britishness
Wade was indeed delighted to be working Scherfig. "I thought she had a particularly good eye for Britishness, surprising because she is not British, but there was something about her slight remove from it that allowed her to have a more forensic, anthropological eye for quirks of Britishness. She is very attuned to writing, she writes herself, she is extremely respectful of the script."
Adds Director Lone Scherfig: "I had seen the play twice and when I saw it the second time I tried to flag it up that if anyone was going to film this play, please could it be me. A script was already in progress so I worked with Laura [Wade] whilst she was rewriting the screenplay to see if we could turn our ideas on locations, actors and new research into a reality. I think she enjoyed working in a different media. I definitely enjoyed working with her. She's a very, very smart, witty and talented writer."
The young cast jumped at the chance to work with Scherfig. Max Irons, who plays Miles, says: "She was keen to just open a door into this particular world and let the viewer see in, and then close that door again without passing judgement, and let the audience make their own minds up."
Adds Freddie Fox, who plays James, the Riot Club's President: "Lone's become an honorary lad, so as this movie has progressed she's started chiming in with us and always making wicked little suggestions to add to those funny bits. She's got great taste and a great feel of what the energy between us all needs to be, and she's done that by kind of becoming the 11th rioter."
For Ben Schnetzer, who plays Dimitri, it is not just Scherfig, but also Danish Director of Photography Sebastian Blenkov who both bring an interesting authenticity to the film: "The way that Lone and Sebastian work together is really conducive to a creative, exciting environment, it's just been really fun. They bring an outside, more objective eye, not being English. I think that's quite important in this film, to have that, so it is quite an unadulterated look at this subject which isn't skewed one way or another."
As a freelance film and theatre journalist for more than 30 years, published playwright and creator of the independent training initiative The Writing Studio, Daniel Dercksen has been a contributor for Lifestyle since 2012. Visit www.writingstudio.co.za
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