In partnership with Warner Bros. UK
Saltburn, the second feature film written and directed by Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman), is a wild ride driven by ambition, avarice and envy. During his first term at Oxford University, scholarship boy Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) clocks handsome aristo Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi) and is immediately entranced. Cool, confident and obnoxiously wealthy, Felix seems to glide through life in a way that Oliver can only dream of.
After befriending Felix and becoming his loyal if slightly awkward wingman, Oliver is rewarded with an invitation to spend the summer at Saltburn, the enormous country pile that Felix calls home. There, he ingratiates himself with Felix’s parents, daffy Sir James (Richard E. Grant) and glamorous Elspeth (Rosamund Pike), while also catching the eye of his insecure sister Venetia (Alison Oliver). Is Oliver desperate to fit in at Saltburn because he has nowhere else to go – or is he playing a much more dangerous game?
Here are six things to expect from a film that blends psychological thriller elements with pitch-black comedy and plot twists you’ll never see coming.
Posh boy partying
Saltburn begins at Oxford University, where Felix’s life is a whirl of flirtations, fancy dinners and full-throttle drinking sessions. A round of shots for the whole table? Sure, why not! Fennell fully captures the posh squalor of his privileged student life – he may have plenty of friends and loads of money, but his room still looks disgusting when he wakes up with a hangover. Seriously though, why are rich kids so untidy?
Farleigh (Archie Madekwe) isn’t keen on Oliver. CREDIT: Warner Bros
Lust with a purpose
After Oliver arrives at Saltburn, he quickly realises that his sexuality can be used as currency. As an outsider who comes from a very different background to the aristocratic Cattons, he is perceived as virile and even exotic. Several family members fall under his sexual spell, but whether their lust is reciprocated is up for debate because Oliver clearly understands that sex equals power. However, when Oliver is genuinely turned-on, he expresses his desire in ways you won’t ever forget. Fennell shoots these provocative scenes so boldly that you’ll almost feel like a voyeur.
Next level grandeur
Saltburn is the sort of opulent country estate that only the 0.1 per cent could afford to live in. It doesn’t just have a swimming pool, but also its own swimming pond – well, why not have both? Its countless acres of manicured parkland are also home to an elaborate maze that really comes into its own during a lavish party scene. And as you’ll find out, the freestanding tub in Felix’s bathroom is so much more than a posh prop.
Even in its darkest, spikiest stretches, Saltburn is properly hilarious – Fennell is a master of black comedy. Many of the film’s comic highlights are provided by Pike’s Elspeth, a woman with minimal self-awareness and a sharp tongue; she even describes her own daughter as “sexually incontinent”. Elspeth also claims to have inspired Pulp‘s Britpop banger ‘Common People’ – presumably because she had a wannabe working-class phase in the ’90s. Pike delivers every priceless one-liner with a crisp relish.
Rosamund Pike as Elspeth Catton. CREDIT: Warner Bros,
Surprising soundtrack choices
Fennell’s last film, the Oscar-winning revenge comedy Promising Young Woman, had an instantly iconic scene featuring Paris Hilton‘s ‘Stars Are Blind’. This time around, the director has done it again by using some unlikely tunes in surprising moments. Listen out for ‘Have A Cheeky Christmas’ by The Cheeky Girls – yes, really – and the mid-noughties club classic ‘Perfect (Exceeder)’ by Mason Vs Princess Superstar.
Oh, and the Pet Shop Boys‘ pithy lyrics have never sounded more pointed than in Saltburn‘s toe-curling karaoke scene.
An outrageous final act
Even if you think you know where Saltburn is heading, you really don’t. The film’s final act is a riveting series of narrative mic drops sure to make you gasp, laugh and question everything you’ve seen before.
‘Saltburn’ is in UK cinemas from November 17