THE RULING CLASS
Review by Michael Jacobson
Peter O'Toole, Alastair Sim, Arthur Lowe, Harry Andrews, Coral Browne,
Director: Peter Medak
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Features: See Review
Length: 154 Minutes
Release Date: October 30, 2001
do you know you're God?”
When I pray to Him, I find I'm talking to myself.”
Ruling Class is
a mishmash film, filled with scenes to make you laugh til it hurts and others to
make you recoil in horror. It's
parody with teeth fully bared…one can almost argue that it attacks its targets
of government, social structure and how the mentally disabled fits amongst it
all so ferociously that it almost forgoes comedy for the sake of viciousness.
Yet, laugh we do.
story suggests madness is not only commonplace in the ruling class of the
British House of Lords, but a prerequisite.
As long as it is the right kind of madness, that is.
Take the 13th Earl of Gurney (Andrews), whom we meet only
briefly at the beginning. He rails
rather incoherently and high society eats it up…shortly afterwards, he hangs
himself while wearing a tutu.
to the dismay of his family, he leaves his house and the bulk of his estate to
his son Jack, the 14th Earl of Gurney (O'Toole).
The problem? While the father was excusably mad, the son is less so.
He has been receiving voluntary psychiatric treatment for the past
several years to no avail. He believes he is Jesus Christ.
man believing himself God is of no use to the House of Lords, particularly one
who brings a message of love the way Jack does. His outraged family decides to take their only legal course
of action…Jack needs to marry and have a son, then be committed, so the family
can take charge of the estate until said son is old enough to do so for himself.
create a bride for him, practically out of thin air, in Grace Shelley (Seymour),
who acts out the role of an operatic heroine for Jack.
The scene where they marry, in front of a hapless bishop (Sim), is
hysterical, especially since Jack won't stop referring to himself as God!
real point of all of this is…and it takes a bit too long to get there…is
that Jack is “cured” as the story progresses, but he goes from thinking
he's Jesus Christ to thinking he's Jack the Ripper.
His message of love dissipates into nightmarish visions of brutality and
murder. It's not a real cure,
obviously, but it gets him acceptance into the House of Lords.
The governing body has no place for talk of love, but let a wild man show
up proclaiming the virtues of flogging and executions, and he fits right in.
The finale of the film is unforgettable, as the House of Lords keeps
changing into a decrepit wasted crypt before our eyes, and when Jack, overcome
with his new power, murders his wife…her shattering scream is the picture's
ultimate punctuation mark.
picture is filled with wonderful ideas, especially the impromptu musical numbers
(when Jack first breaks into “The Varsity Drag”, it will floor you) and
plenty of witty dialogue, but ultimately, the good parts don't seem to gel as
much as they should. There is a
pointed lack of real structure at play here, caused by a simple idea that simply
takes too long to execute.
performances are first rate, especially Mr. O'Toole, who shines in a complex
and flamboyant role. His spirit
elevates some of the weaker material and keeps it interesting for us.
in considering the satirical aspects, I couldn't help but think that writer
Peter Barnes and director Peter Medak went a little too far.
The point they wanted to get across was very clear, but they pushed the
limits of satire almost into the realm of spoof, and risked losing the potency
of their message in the process. Not
since Jonathan Swift penned “A Modest Proposal” has political satire been
taken so to the extreme, and in remembering that many took Mr. Swift's work to
be a serious suggestion, we are reminded that sometimes a little restraint is in
The running length of 154 minutes marks the first time this movie has
been available in the United States uncut…previous versions ran at least
thirteen minutes shorter.
another quality anamorphic offering from Criterion, The Ruling Class is
presented with a remarkably clear print, and the newly mastered transfer is very
good. Colors especially receive the
benefit of the labor, coming across with a full palate of natural looking tones
that are rendered without distortions or bleeding.
Images are generally sharp and clear, with strong detail in every level
of focus. I noticed only one scene
of Jack alone that exhibited a little shimmer from age, but it was gone rather
quickly. Overall, for a thirty year
old film, this DVD offerings is quite pleasing.
audio mix is the simple original mono one, but it earns a little extra merit for
dynamic range, most of which is created by the intensity of O'Toole's
performance. The musical numbers
also sound quite good. Scenes with
echo effects will have you convinced you're hearing more than a single track
of audio…a very nice job.
is a new commentary track featuring separate recordings of star Peter O'Toole,
director Peter Medak, and writer Peter Barnes (“the three Peters”, as Medak
quips), which is a good and informative listen…I for one was very glad for
their participation. There is also
a trailer, a collection of Medak's home movies shot during the production of
the film, and a collection of publicity and behind-the-scenes stills.
Ruling Class isn't
perfect, but it has much to like about it, including an acidic sense of humor,
terrific comic performances, and an unapologetic attitude toward its subject
matter. Fans of this classic
British film should be happy with this quality Criterion DVD, with a good
picture and audio quality and the full running time restored.