Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Ruling Class

(UK, 1972)

I liked this much better when it was new. Peter O’Toole bought the rights to the play this was based on, and you can see why. He plays a man who inherits the title of 14th Earl of Gurney after #13, played wonderfully by Harry Andrews, accidentally hangs himself while dressed in a ballet tutu. (This was the first time I recall hearing of auto-erotic asphyxia, which was the cause of David Carradine’s death in 2009.) The whole gigantic estate goes to him. The trouble is, he thinks he is Jesus Christ. The rest of the family need him to be declared insane so they can continue in their pampered lives. Failing that, killing him would do.

It is a satire and it is played broadly. Too broadly for my taste. I found myself wondering if this would be more interesting to me if I were British, having been raised in the rigid class system that still prevails over there, with its peerages and public school ties and such. The fact is, I don’t give a Lord’s ass about any of that. They’re welcome to it. I think British royalty makes for some swell parades, and that’s about it.

The reason this part is tailor-made and bespoke for O’Toole is that the Earl delivers about 100 or so speeches that begin in a low and reasonable voice and quickly escalate to ear-shattering, shrieking crescendos. If that is not O’Toole’s style to a T, I don’t know what is. And it can be good … in much smaller doses. But when every soliloquy reaches for a dramatic high point, it gets tiresome very fast. It would have been hard enough to take in a normal 105-minute movie, but this one stretches, incredibly, for 154 minutes. The idea simply does not stretch that far. By the halfway point I was prepared to shoot O’Toole myself if that’s what it took to shut him up.