SALTBURN (15, 131 mins). Billed as a psychological black comedy thriller, actress turned writer-director Emerald Fennell takes viewers on a modern gothic journey into places they might not want to go – but it’s fun if you do!
Barry Keoghan is Oliver Quick, a young man from a different planet compared with the posh boys at Oxford University. Felix (Jacob Elordi) takes him home to the family’s sprawling estate for what promises to be an intoxicating summer of sexual unburdening. Oooh, er!
The verdict *** After his own difficult start in life, brilliant Irish star Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk / The Banshees of Inisherin) again shows he has a wonderful future ahead of him.
Think of Saltburn as a cross between The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), a 1950s-set thriller starring Matt Damon, and Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), the black comedy starring Alec Guinness produced by Birmingham-born Sir Michael Balcon (grandfather of Daniel Day-Lewis). Now there’s a mindful of cinematic triva for you!
Here’s more: the only film made at the fabulously-appropriate Drayton House in Northamptonshire, Saltburn was shot in a 4:3 ratio where the picture width is just 1.33 times the size of its height, making it almost look square.
The music and gothic title fonts try harder still to drum up the atmosphere (though you might well read the director’s name as Edward, not Emerald Fennell, for example. Ooops).
Richard E Grant is forever identified with Withnail & I. But, as with Hugh Grant and his own Four Weddings… you always feel he’s capable of so much more.
His character here as Felix’s father Sir James Catton is ripe for expansion, but he’s underserved by the script compared with wife Elsbeth, an absolute hoot played by former Bond girl Rosamund Pike (whose father used to teach at Birmingham Conservatoire).
Less recognisable is Carey Mulligan as Elsbeth’s friend, Pamela. Mulligan had a best actress Oscar nomination for a similar role to Keoghan in Promising Young Woman (2020), the debut film directed by Call The Midwife actress Emerald Fennell who also played Camilla in The Crown.
Although Saltburn is overlong at 131 minutes and doesn’t always make sense it, it naturally has lots more action than Steven Knight’s internalised Spencer (2021).
It’s an engagingly twisted, very British thriller and we could do with a whole lot more of those. Fennell and Keoghan are ones to watch.
Showing at both Cineworld Broad Street and Odeon Broadway Plaza.
TOP TIP. Franchise prequel The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (12A, 156 mins) and the gory horror Thanksgiving (18, 106 mins) were not previewed and so will be reviewed here on Monday. Don’t miss it!