Saltburn Review

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The director of Saltburn, Emerald Fennell, does not disappoint in her promise to win an Oscar – at the same time shredding apart the upper class. Employing social satire as a weapon to counter old-fashioned practices and insular attitudes, she takes us through the title estate where we see that possession is everything. It’s a place for Lady Elspeth Catton (Rosamund Pike) and Sir James (Richard E. Grant) to hide away from prying eyes with their children Felix (Jacob Elordi) and Venetia (Alison Oliver) only inviting friends over every summer to share the wonderment of Saltburn with them.

The film also incorporates traces of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited as it was done in the 1980s (and Ealing comedy classic Kind Hearts and Coronets). This does more than just help elevate Fennell’s profile as an accomplished writer but she also gives a chance for Barry Keoghan who plays Felix’s friend Oliver Quick from Oxford University (though his role is reminiscent of Matt Damon as Tom Ripley). Not only does he match Carey Mulligan’s scene-stealing hippie house guest Pamela for stage presence but he proves himself no less charismatic than Lady Elspeth too.

Oliver’s subtle manipulation of the Catton family acts as an underpinning to this pitch-black drama comedy-drama, which is shown by Keoghan in several forms such as flattery directed towards their mother, although his intimidating sexual energy around Venetia is very utilitarian due to her submissive nature. This aspect transforms Saltburn into a real place: by penetrating beneath his patrons’ skin into Oliver. However, it’s the barely veiled infatuation between himself and Felix that hits home hardest and feeds back into the central themes of entitlement and wealth for which La La Land cinematographer Linus Sandgren has only further amplified the dreamlike quality of Saltburn.

The grounds of Saltburn are always bathed in summer sunshine, except for Oliver and Duncan, the Catton’s butler (Paul Rhys) who gets too little attention down there. That is where a lot of the humor throughout the film derives from since all visitors are treated as playthings to amuse relatives with until they become tiresome. However, only Duncan escapes from his masters’ whims behind walls of rules and regulations similar to how his employers shut themselves out from their surroundings.

In this sensual satire, Fennell does not just deconstruct class: she also seems interested in why it still exists. People still believe that having money makes them happy whether through possession or class climbing. It is this argument that gives another dimension to Saltburn where its writer and director, Promising Young Woman’s Emerald Fennell, suggests limitless wealth as well as opportunities could breed unconcern and lack of ambition. In Felix’s case, getting Oxford’s best education leads nowhere because he won’t understand why attending this prestigious college is important.

However, the fact that they were able to introduce Oliver into the picture gives us a sense of normalcy that could not have been achieved if he was anywhere else because handsome faces and overflowing bank accounts can make others doubtful. In many ways, Saltburn feels like a classic Hammer horror movie which is just as much devoid of human-like beings and compassion as it is insidious in nature. Fennell brings every expectation crashing down horridly during the last act with some shocking revelations.

Saltburn also falls short in its final third, due to minor pacing issues that really let everything drag – finales come and go before ending on an unconventional note that’s rather saucy. Not only does this show off Keoghan at his absolute best but it also leaves you singing along to a Sophie Ellis-Bextor chart-topper proving its murder on the dancefloor.


Overall, Saltburn has some slight pacing issues but remains true to Fennell the uncompromising visionary with her unique voice who is an Oscar writer-director winner. It not only plays on the plaudits she received for Promising Young Woman but also establishes Barry Keoghan as a leading man.

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