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United Kingdom 1972
Directed by
Peter Medak
154 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Ruling Class

This robust satire of the English class system very much shares in the anti-Establishmentarian spirit of the 1960s that gave us such films as Lindsay Anderson’s If....  Written by Peter Barnes, who adaptedhis own stage play it not only mercilessly lampoons the complacent snobbery of the upper class but in its latter stages moves into some quite dark territory.

It opens strongly with the 13th Earl of Gurney (Harry Andrews) returning home from a private dinner engagement at some London club to indulge in bit if auto-erotic asphyxiation that goes wrong, leaving the way open for Jack, the 14th Earl of Gurney (Peter O’Toole) to inherit the estate, The trouble is the new Earl believes that he is God. The family butler (Arthur Lowe) is happy to play along with this delusion but Jack’s uncle, Charles (William Mervyn), has other ideas and with the complicity of his wife (Australian born actress Coral Browne) instigates a plan to have Jack committed.

In its day this farcical concoction which occasionally breaks out into short song and dance routine would have been lapped up but robbed of that Zeitgeist investment it is too much of a good thing dragging somewhat, particularly in the middle section. O’Toole however is in fine fettle, relishing every larger-than-life moment and the support cast that includes James Villiers as an archetypal Hooray Henry, Alastair Sim as a fuddy-duddy bishop and Lowe priceless as the aristocracy-hating butler, all supply plenty of fun, provided you have a taste for this very British slice of the offbeat.




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