Emerald Fennell's second directorial feature is a desperately disappointing mash-up of superior works. We begin with forty minutes of Brideshead, before morphing into The Talented Mr Ripley by way of The Blandings and Kind Hearts and Coronets. Worse still, Fennell uses transgressive sexual acts to paper over the unoriginal and meandering plot. The film is not as darkly funny as she thinks it is. And its only saving graces are Rosamund Pike as the AbFab clueless matriarch, and Carey Mulligan in a touching cameo as the mother's addict friend Pamela. One star for each of them, and half a star for Richard E Grant shouting "Just eat the bloody pie!"
Barry Keoghan stars as the Ripley-esque Oliver Quick, a Fresher at a fantasy Oxford where you drive up to the Rad Cam, smoke in your room, and students not tourists drink at the KA. Oliver is drawn into the in-crowd when he helps out Felix Catton (Euphoria's Jacob Elordi), and lands an invitation to his Brideshead-style country house, Saltburn. In addition to Felix, Oliver charms the Wodehousian ditsy father, caustically selfish mother and vulnerable sister (newcomer Alison Oliver). The only person who seems on to his manipulations from the start is the family's poor relation Farrell (Archie Madekwe - GRAN TURISMO). Game senses game.
The film proceeds at a leisurely pace, with every plot twist telegraphed years in advance. The way the film develops will not surprise anyone with a shred of (cine-) literacy. There are occasional lines or scenes that are mordantly funny and brilliantly constructed, mostly involving Pike and Mulligan. But between them, ennui and an infantile desire to shock.
Fennell's first feature, PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, was just that. SALTBURN is a step back. Will her inevitable third feature show this to be a mis-step? Will her directorial choices add to her narrative or to continue to be puzzling (why the 4:3 aspect ratio?) or showy without effect (look! mirrors!)?
SALTBURN has a running time of 127 minutes. It will open in the USA on November 24th.