Saltburn  (15) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Emerald Fennell, United States/UK, 2023, 131 mins

Cast:  Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike

Review by Carol Allen

Rising directorial star Emerald Fennell’s second film is very different in tone and subject from her admirable debut Promising Young Woman.  

The premise sounds not unlike Brideshead Revisited.   Oxford University student Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) is invited by charismatic and aristocratic fellow student Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi) to spend the summer at the latter’s country estate of the title.   Comparisons with Waugh’s story are inevitable.  Fennell’s script even slyly references this by having Felix claim that his family inspired half of Evelyn Waugh’s novels. 

Her take on the situation though appears to be an attempt to examine the still surviving British class system in the early years of this century.  Gauche Oliver is from a working class family in the north.  Everyone else at his posh college comes from society’s top drawer and the only friend he attracts is a nerdish mathematics genius.  Social star of the college is the charismatic Felix, who unexpectedly takes a shine to Oliver, when his bike is damaged and the latter generously lends him his.  Posh as he is, Felix is fascinated by his new friend’s tales of his deprived Merseyside upbringing, drags Oliver into his social circle and then comes up with that invitation.

And Felix’s family are something else, when it comes to English aristocratic eccentricity.   There’s bumbling father Sir James (Richard E Grant), Felix’s unstable sister Venetia (Alison Oliver), who sexually devours the newcomer but most entertainingly Rosamund Pike, hilarious as Felix’s gorgeous, wide eyed and totally thick ex-model mother Elspeth and Carey Mulligan as an impoverished house guest who never leaves and is always referred to as “poor dear Pamela”.

Jacob Elordi as Felix is just perfectly cast.   He is tall, drop dead good looking with a heart winning smile and loads of charismatic potential star quality, soon to be on show again as Elvis in Priscilla.  The centre of the film though is Keogh – ordinary looking, brooding and successfully hinting in his demeanour from the very off that perhaps there is something darker about him than the working class hero you might expect.  There’s also a very amusing performance from Paul Rhys as the dour family butler.

So loads of sparkling dialogue, a lot of sometimes eyebrow raising sexual activity but until the rather rushed denouement, not a terribly strong story, certainly compared to Fennell’s debut film, which packed a far stronger punch.   Worth seeing though for some really good performances, and the sheer beauty not only of Jacob Elordi but the stately home which plays Saltburn itself.  Name and location anonymous.   The real life owners don’t want day trippers traipsing all over the place.