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Is Saltburn worth the watch? Our honest review of Jacob Elordi's divisive movie

Here’s what our Film Editor thought watching Saltburn earlier this year... 

Rosamund Pike in Saltburn
Emmy Griffiths
TV & Film Editor
22 December 2023
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Since Saltburn landed in cinemas, it has been a seriously divisive one for fans. Starring Rosamund Pike, Jacob Elordi and Barry Keoghan, it has a hugely impressive cast - but the movie's more shocking moments have taken viewers to social media in droves to discuss. So what did we think of the new Emerald Fennell film? Here's my honest review of Saltburn... 

WATCH: Barry Keoghan and Jacob Elordi star in the new movie

Heading to the cinema during London Film Festival earlier this year, much of my enjoyment of Saltburn’s 131-minute runtime was thanks to the positively guffawing man two rows in front of me who appeared to enjoy himself immensely - before the movie heaved its way to its ruinous conclusion - and the laughter very much stopped. 

Jacob Elordi stars in Saltburn
Jacob Elordi stars in Saltburn

The film, directed by Promising Young Woman’s Emerald Fennell, starts predictably enough, or so you’d think. A bespectacled, scholarship kid Oliver (Barry Keoghan) starts Oxford, and despite clearly having searing intelligence, struggles to make connections with his tutor or coursemates, only managing to make one friend, a borish maths prodigy. With a lack of other options, Oliver spends time with him while yearning to befriend the effervescent and charming rich boy Felix (played with just the right amount of 'gap yahh’ aplomb by 2023’s festival darling Jacob Elordi). 


Oliver and Fairley at Oxford in Saltburn
Oliver and Fairley at Oxford in Saltburn
  1. Saltburn 
  2. THe Bike Riders
  3. May December
  4. Killers of the Flower Moon 
  5. All of Us Strangers
  6. The Zone of Interest
  7. One Life
  8. Chicken Run 2
  9. Poor Things
  10. The Kitchen

Finally finding an 'in' with the cool kids, Oliver and Felix bond over Oliver’s difficult upbringing, and the latter ends up inviting Oliver to stay with his family at their spectacular estate for the summer. What is parcelled as a coming-of-tale tale of two friends is littered with moments of creepiness - and that’s before we even step foot in Saltburn. 

Indeed, while at first glance you might be thinking that this is the start of an Evelyn Waugh-inspired romp, and certainly there are many nods to Brideshead Revisited, from Charles narrating his summer at the stately home to his wide-eyed arrival on the ground to Felix’s family home, but this is no charming foray into the land of the very wealthy.

The sense of unease throughout the film, from Oliver’s borderline disturbing infatuation with Felix to his attempts to fit in with the high society, only deepens as Oliver becomes more enveloped in Felix’s world. 

The house’s beauty, as well as Felix and Oliver’s closeness, is often off-set with moments of vileness; vomit splattered across a sink’s soap dish, the inside of a toilet bowl, a carved stone lodged in filth on a river’s edge - all are a constant reminder of the vileness lurking beneath the surface of this idyllic place. 

I particularly enjoyed every time Felix’s vapid family appeared in a scene; his mother Elspeth (played immaculately by Rosamund Pike), his father Sir James (Richard E Grant), and his 'masochist' sister, Conversations with Friends star Alison Oliver. A particular highlight is their mindlessly callous (yet unerringly polite) handling of their houseguest Pamela (Carey Mulligan), which gives us just enough of an insight into the darkness behind the facade of generosity - teasing Oliver with his fate if he steps a toe out of line with these people. 

Part of the unease of watching Saltburn is, like Oliver, you are waiting for the other shoe to fall - and perhaps I should have foreseen just how the family’s perfect summer comes crashing down - but I really didn’t. There are also moments of jaw-dropping darkness at times, so much so that during one scene I had to close my eyes over second-hand horror at what I was witnessing - and I love a good horror movie. 

As for the conclusion? Since I don’t want to give anything away, I’ll just say that I’m not sure I know exactly what message this movie was trying to convey to its audience - but much like the family’s thoughts on Pamela after she is booted from their home, who really cares? It is a psychological thriller that lives up to its name, and is sure to be much talked about following its theatrical release in November.  

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