Directed by Emerald Fennell.
Starring Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Alison Oliver, Archie Madekwe, Rosamund Pike, Richard E Grant, and Carey Mulligan.
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.
Actor Emerald Fennell (Call The Midwife, The Crown) proved her chops as a director and writer with her debut feature Promising Young Woman in 2020, which was a success with critics and won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Fennell now returns with her much anticipated sophomore feature Saltburn, which is set at Oxford University in 2006 as Barry Keoghan’s Oliver Quick struggles to settle, becoming infatuated with a fellow member of his college Jacob Elordi’s Felix Catton, who comes from a wealthy background.
After a chance meeting Felix invites Oliver to stay at his estate over the course of the summer, the titular Saltburn. It is a lavish country estate, huge in scale with a maze at its centre. The early stages of the film play more as a satire of the wealthy with laughs aplenty, showing Oxford itself and some of the wealthy families who attend.
The second act of the film onwards plays more as Brideshead Revisited meets the works of Patricia Highsmith, especially The Talented Mr. Ripley. There are some intense sequences full of moments that will shock some viewers so it is best for viewers to go in cold perhaps, but this will not be unexpected from the director of Promising Young Woman, which was certainly provocative. While some of the visuals are effective and show the mental state of Oliver and Felix, some can be drawn out and seem to shock for the sake of shocking.
The cast are all on top form and with no one being quite as they seem Barry Keoghan’s stock has been on the rise the past few years with supporting roles in the likes of Dunkirk, The Banshees of Inisherin and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. It is refreshing to see him given his dues here as a leading man. Elordi, soon to be seen as Elvis in Priscilla, does a fine job inhabiting a posh twentysomething with spot on mannerisms and accent. Richard E. Grant, Rosamund Pike and Carey Mulligan add touches of class if none are afforded a truly memorable role. Conversations With Friends’ Alison Oliver, shares some of the strongest scenes with Oliver as Felix’s sister Venetia.
The shifts in the story don’t always land and while they may prove shocking are not as well developed as in some of the works that inspired the film. When being compared to something like The Talented Mr. Ripley there is naturally a weight of expectation that Saltburn never quite manages to scale, for all the visual shocks and narrative twists there is something surface level as it descends into darker territory. While Oliver may be an unreliable narrator he is not as interesting a protagonist as someone like Tom Ripley.
Saltburn once again shows Emerald Fennell to be a distinctive voice in contemporary cinema, making a welcome return with a vicious satire of the rich, but it is perhaps most frustrating it never gets a chance to fully develop its concepts into something more memorable that will reward repeat viewings.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★