I spoke with a friend about my distaste for The Riot Club and she responded:
“Ah, if you’d only been here during that whole thing, you haven’t been in London long enough so you can’t understand how strong those feelings of resentment toward that particular type of toff are.”
The Riot Club is based on the Laura Wade play Posh, a smash hit in London’s West End in 2010. It concerns a ‘dining club’, similar in some ways to a small and elite fraternity, a body of privileged young men who meet regularly to dine and drink on a bacchanalian level.
The Riot Club takes a long time to reveal its intentions, which would be fine if there were a stronger tone to engage with. By the time the film revealed its inevitable message, I was left vaguely uncomfortable but not at all in the way I imagine the filmmakers intended.
You see The Riot Club is a film full of condemnation of the casual hatred it accuses the wealthy (and upper class) of having towards “the poor”, which in this context I’m assuming means more or less everyone else. Disgustingly lacking in empathy or grace, these young men do not just drink too much or behave foolishly: they humiliate people they have any upper hand over, they treat women with absolute contempt that becomes downright sexually predatory at times and they believe themselves above accountability for anything at all, even a horrifying act of brutality.
This is not a difficult position to get behind. It’s easy to summon up anger and disgust at the idea of young men who have no regard for any other human beings but yet consider themselves the only worthy people alive. It’s easy to feel disdain for people who substitute bragging about wealth and privilege in place of any attempt to relate to the people they encounter.
It’s far, far too easy.
A condemnation of class hatred that drips with class hatred is an uncomfortable watch. I think there are few things more uneasy than watching someone do something that portrays themselves in an embarrassing, unflattering light and knowing they are unaware of it. That was the central discomfort of the film for me, rather than any incisive commentary on the apparent automatic inhumanity of anyone born in a certain demographic. The whole thing felt like a giant play of straw men, presenting no character or conflict but simply something to hate. I was uncomfortable because the film made me feel like I had walked in on an act of onanism that the filmmakers were too intent on to realise they were being observed.