Saltburn Review

Friday 17 November 2023

Plot: A student at Oxford University finds himself drawn into the world of a charming and aristocratic classmate, who invites him to his eccentric family's sprawling estate for a summer never to be forgotten.

Film: Saltburn

Director: Emerald Fennell

Writer: Emerald Fennell

Starring: Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike

Saltburn is a very English mystery drama, which pokes fun at the aristocratic lifestyle, while still making you long to experience even just a moment of the absurd, grandiose of It all. The film is set in 2006 but the eccentric upper classness of it all would have you believe we were exploring the 1930s with lavish costume parties and dressing up for dinner.

Barry Keoghan has landed the leading role he so deserves as Oliver Quick, a bright albeit awkward lad from Prescott, Merseyside who has come to study English at Oxford with the aid of a scholarship, marking him an outcast from his old-money peers from the moment he arrives. Oliver is quickly enamoured with Felix Catton, played by Jacob Elordi, his exceedingly handsome and popular fellow scholar. Longing for Felix’s attention, Oliver comes to his aid one day and is rewarded by Felix taking him under his wing, potentially viewing him as a project, a pet, a charity case, or simply a rare confidant within the privileged circles of Oxford.

Oliver shares his poignant tales of his troubled home life, stating he never wishes to return home, which lands him an invitation to spend the summer at the Catton’s opulent estate, Saltburn. The estate, untouched by the National Trust, exudes pre-war grandeur. Fennell, the creator, pre-emptively addresses any Brideshead Revisited comparisons, hinting at Waugh's supposed fixation on the house.

The film introduces the standard-issue eccentric blueblood Catton family, featuring the superb Richard E Grant as Sir James, Alison Oliver as the sexy-damaged sister Venetia, and Rosamund Pike as Felix’s stunning, distracted ex-model mother Elsbeth. They’re a proximately close family, spending long summer days and then cosy evenings together, while never really talking about their thoughts or feelings, in a uniquely posh sort of way. The narrative includes cousin-slash-houseguest-sponger Farleigh, portrayed by Archie Madekwe, while Carey Mulligan plays Elsbeth’s morose friend Pamela, the houseguest with an unwavering presence, adding to Oliver’s arrival as a trio of those who have found themselves at Saltburn, with no desire to leave.

The anticipated trajectory of cruel Felix growing weary of his plaything Oliver takes an unexpected turn, with the women of the family taking a liking to Oliver. Oliver who I described as awkward earlier in this review, becomes anything but; taking to aristocratic life as though he were born for it, knowing exactly what to say and who to say it to, in order to ensure his position amongst the family. Keoghan's portrayal of Oliver’s switch is effortless, it's subtle but you can see it happening, the change in the way he carries himself, his calculated words, you can feel that something is off, but you can’t stop watching to see how it plays out.

The film's ending is a real whirlwind and while the conclusion is somewhat predictable, it makes it no less satisfying. This is a well-acted, visually superb, film for the ages. Emerald Fennel has done a fantastic job at establishing herself as one to watch and I look forward to revisiting Saltburn soon.

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