TV Cream

Films: R is for...

Ruling Class, The

The film adaptation of Peter Barnes’s labyrinthine stage comedy set in a rambling country estate takes a sledgehammer to the British aristocracy via Peter O’Toole’s disturbed Earl of Gurney, an egotistical, uninhibited creation of his cloistered environment, who believes himself to be the second coming of Christ. After some odd, Biblical electro-shock therapy (involving a life-size crucifix, an Old Testament-spouting Nigel Green and a wrestling match with a gorilla in a top hat) his grasping relatives believe him cured and the family bloodline saved – until he starts styling himself after Jack the Ripper. As ever, celebrity cameos ooze symbolism – William Mervyn’s scheming head of the household, Alistair Sim’s bumbling bishop, Arthur Lowe’s increasingly soused, Stalinist butler – and when it has the courage of its singular convictions, the film capers off into weird and wild territory that cleverly masks the occasional clunk of corny symbolism.

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