Rating: R, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout, some disturbing violent content, and drug use
Release Date: November 17, 2023
Jeanne: Writer/director Emerald Fennell has established herself as a truly unique filmmaker. Following her wildly successful 2021 film, PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, for which she won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and a nomination for Best Director, Fennell’s newest endeavor, SALTBURN, proves how incredibly genuine she is.
Fennell’s exploration of class divisiveness isn’t new, but she certainly puts an interesting spin on it. Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) is a first-year student at Oxford University. He’s definitely out of his element as a scholarship recipient versus the others who come from backgrounds of wealth and privilege. From afar, he becomes enamored of a titled, very handsome member of his school named Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi).
Through a series of encounters, the two meet and Felix takes the friendless Oliver under his wing. Upon learning of Oliver’s father’s untimely death, Felix invites Oliver to spend the summer at his ancestral home, Saltburn.
Oliver is immediately ingratiated into Felix’s family, including his mother, Elspeth Catton (Rosamund Pike), his father, Sir James Catton (Richard E. Grant), his sister, Venetia (Alison Oliver) and the Catton’s “adopted” son, Farleigh Start (Archie Madekwe), Felix’s best friend at Oxford. Despite his lower-class upbringing, the Cattons seem enthralled with Oliver --- everyone except Farleigh.
Lest Oliver become too comfortable in his new digs for the summer, he witnesses the unceremonious removal of one guest, Poor Dear Pamela (Carey Mulligan), who overstayed her welcome. Determined not to let that happen to him, Oliver plots a way to remain at Saltburn permanently.
The British class system has been well documented over the years in a multitude of ways. Fennell’s illustration is more captivating than most. Her story begins in 2006, so one can assume we are no longer in the days of Downton Abbey. But once Oliver is introduced to Duncan (Paul Rhys), Saltburn’s head of the house, all bets are off. He may be the hired help, but he’s been at Saltburn since he was a footman at age 15 --- and he now rules the estate. Not, however, a deterrent for Oliver.
Fennell’s writing is immensely creative, though there are a few flaws, and innumerable twists and turns. The day of Oliver’s birthday party, when Felix takes Oliver for a ride, it’s not a huge surprise where the two end up, but it is rather unnerving where Fennell takes the audience next.
The party scene itself is over the top, but not in a bad way. The decadence of extreme wealth is on full display, and yet none of the younger family members are particularly happy or enjoying themselves. And as SALTBURN progresses, it becomes painfully obvious what Oliver’s plan has been all along.
Keoghan’s Oliver has just enough charisma --- and boyish good looks --- to pull off the subterfuge he is seeking to wrought. After his stunning turn as Dominic in last year’s THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, for which he received an Oscar nom, Keoghan is an inspired choice to play the shy, awkward Oliver. He has a multitude of memorable scenes, a few some may find disturbing, including Oliver’s final act of defiance. But nonetheless, Keoghan is astonishing.
As opposed to Oliver, there is nothing introverted about Felix, the “Golden Boy” of Saltburn. Elordi is simply mesmerizing --- gorgeous, in fact --- the perfect actor to play this incredibly self-confident scion of an immensely wealthy family. He truly embodies this kind young man who isn’t prepared for betrayal.
Pike and Grant are equally well chosen for their roles. Elspeth is exceptionally beautiful and may look harmless, but just ask Poor Dear Pamela, played so brilliantly by Mulligan. Grant is adroit in his role as the benevolent patriarch --- just don’t push him beyond his limits. He and Pike are divine together, though, at first, they appear mismatched.
Rhys is downright creepy playing Duncan, who refuses to smile and is always lurking. And yet he is unable to save the Cattons from themselves. Madekwe, who recently starred in GRAN TURISMO, and Alison Oliver round out this terrific ensemble cast.
SALTBURN will not appeal to everyone, but it will definitely find its audience. Fennell has proven that she is more than capable as a filmmaker. Let’s hope she continues her winning streak.
Opinion: See It Now!
David: If you were a fan of the 2021 film PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN starring Carey Mulligan as a revenge-seeking femme fatale, prepare for that director’s second feature-length effort called SALTBURN. Emerald Fennell has crafted a unique story that features three rising young talents in the film industry.
Oxford University first year student Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) does not hail from a wealthy family as are many of Oxford’s fortunate sons. He is desperate to fit in and temporarily befriends one obnoxious peer who claims the ability to calculate in his head numbers like 432 X 78, and he does ---instantly. But Oliver espies another student, Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), who is drop-dead handsome and popular with virtually everyone. So, the human calculator is out.
After lending Felix his bicycle one day, a friendship blooms and Felix invites Oliver to his family’s massive English estate known as Saltburn, for the summer. There Oliver meets Felix’s parents, Sir James (Richard E. Grant) and Elspeth (Rosamund Pike). Felix also has a sister, Venetia (Alison Oliver), who takes a liking to Oliver.
Rounding out the cast of up-and-comers is Archie Madekwe as Farleigh Start who also resides at Saltburn. Madekwe starred earlier this year in GRAN TURISMO as the amateur race car gamer who becomes a professional driver.
Sir James and Elspeth have a habit of inviting people to live with them --- until they grow tired of their company. This includes one odd duck named Poor Dear Pamela played by Mulligan in a cameo, thus reuniting Fennell with the star of her first film.
Once SALTBURN shifts from the Oxford campus to this spectacular manor, a startling chain of events occurs that no one, especially Fennell’s viewing audience, could possibly have anticipated. While the entire cast is supremely talented, this is Keoghan’s film. He observes how the idle rich live and think and rapidly reaches the conclusion that he doesn’t want to leave --- ever.
Keoghan’s performance is one of great courage and daring. The 31-year-old Irish actor earned his first Oscar nomination last year for a supporting role in THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. His final scene in SALTBURN is a stunner, one in which his character displays in vivid detail the old aphorism of “dance like no one is watching”.
Fennell is already an Academy Award winner for her screenplay of PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN. Voters may find it difficult to ignore her latest creation.
Opinion: See It Now!