After winning an Oscar for the excellent Promising Young Woman writer –director Emerald Fennell turns her attention with her follow up film Saltburn to the dreaming spires of Oxford somewhere our Editor never tires of telling us of how he went there though conveniently forgetting to mention it was the local polytechnic. It is where we first encounter Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) academically bright but socially awkward student sneered further into submission by the wealthy students for being there on a scholarship. He remains something of a wallflower until he lays eyes on Felix (Jacob Elordi), a handsome easy going student from a wealthy family with an ever ready line of females baying for his attention.
After Oliver bails him out from tutor trouble its Felix who returns the favour and offers the hand of friendship inviting him to the family home – a palatial estate called Saltburn and a marked difference to Oliver’s humble and tragic home life. On arriving there Oliver gets to meet Felix family and what a family they are! His father relaxed Sir James (Richard E Grant) , his mother Elsbeth (Rosamund Pike), his sexy but clearly troubled sister Venetia (Alison Oliver) and sponging cousin (Archie Madekwe) along with family friend in need Pamela (Carey Mulligan). They are all brilliantly cast with Mulligan in an extended scene stealing cameo and probably best of all is Rosamund Pike who delivers many of the films best laugh out loud lines.
But they are all damaged people in some way and plot wise there are several moments in this where you’re never sure quite which way this is going to turn let down by third act that is unexpected though not wholly convincing.
Oxford University is where Fennell herself attended and there’s several moments early on that ring true for many students first weeks at college but Saltburn is a kind of class /human behaviour examination and comparison to the Ripley novels by Patricia Highsmith and the direction those went serve as an influence on the twists seen here. Like the Saltburn manor the film is beautifully shot frequented by several scenes which shock (a bathwater moment being one) and Fennell has cleverly used several modern songs that include Pet Shops Boys Rent, Sophie Ellis Bexter’s Murder on the dance floor and also Tomcraft’s Loneliness that comment extremely effectively on the scenes they score.
Not as engaging as Promising Young Woman it nonetheless has a cast who are all on top form and it is about time that Barry Keoghan got a lead role and he rises to the challenge (and the very last scene must have been a challenge). Saltburn’s plot especially towards the end doesn’t hold up to too much scrutiny but it’s well worth a look for the performances.
related feature : Promising Young Woman controversy…..
Here’s the Saltburn trailer…..