The Ruling Class (1972)

Article 3094 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-7-2009
Posting Date: 2-2-2010
Directed by Peter Medak
Featuring Peter O’Toole, Alastair Sim, Arthur Lowe
Country: UK
What it is: Black Comic Satire on the Upper Classes of Britain

When the 13th Earl of Gurney dies from a bizarre and stupid accident, the estate passes on to his son, the 14th Earl of Gurney, who is quite mad and believes himself to be Jesus Christ. Scheming relatives seek to get hold of the estate, and in the process, they undertake to cure him of his illness. However, they end up merely replacing one delusion with another…

At two and a half hours, this dark satire goes on too long, but it’s anchored by a fantastic performance by Peter O’Toole (who was nominated for an Oscar for his performance) as the mad 14th Earl of Gurney. The rest of the cast is also great, with special notice going to Arthur Lowe as a butler who is really an anarchist, Alastair Sim as a bishop, and Nigel Green as another madman (though, sadly, not his voice; he committed suicide shortly after this production and was redubbed). The bigger laughs are towards the beginning of the movie, but that’s only because we haven’t been introduced to the darker turns the story takes in the latter half. The fantastic content is there; the theme of madness is present throughout, and we have a character who is able to shoot electricity from his fingers at the halfway point. However, the fantastic content is most prominent towards the end when the movie begins to swerve into real horror territory, but to say more would be to give too much away; suffice it to say that every other plot description I’ve read gives away a plot point that I feel is best left as a surprise, and I have no intention of letting it slip here. Reportedly, Alastair Sim cast himself as the Bishop, and nobody else involved with the production could bring themselves to turn him down.


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