“The aim of the Society of Saint George is to keep Gurney a memory of England. We were once the rulers of the greatest empire the world has ever known. Ruled not by superior force or skill, but by sheer presence.”- 13th earl of Gurney. This was the first line in the movie, a line that pretty much describe Peter Barnes’s notorious anti-naturalistic vision of the ruling class in Britain. Peter Barnes the play/screen writer of the famously known play The Ruling Class (1968) from which came the movie The Ruling Class (1972) as an adaptation.
The movie adaptation succeeded to draw a satiric image of the monarch and the inherited egocentric discipline in the ruling class, a discipline built on the narcissistic supremacist dogma laid down by inheritance.
The Ruling Class directed by Peter Medak stared by Peter O’Toole, Alastair Sim, and Arthur Lowe was released on 10th of May 1972 in France under the title “Dieu et mon doit” and on the 25th of the same month in UK. Since 1972 the Ruling Class was considered by many as a cult classic that satirically describes the eccentricity of a certain categories of British people.
The movie is about Jack, played by Peter O’Toole a paranoid schizophrenic nobleman who inherits the title of the 14th earl of Gurney along with the Gurney estate after the fatuous death of his father. Jack who thinks that he is Jesus Christ the God of love and charity find himself surrounded by his family that tries hardly to control Jack’s acts and to retain the prestigious reputation of the Gurney family.
Sir Charles: What about Jack?
Dr. Herder: Remember he’s suffering from delusions of grandeur. In reality he’s an earl, an English aristocrat, a member of the ruling class. Naturally, he’s come to believe there’s only one person grander than that: the Lord God Almighty Himself.
In the first part of the movie Peter Barnes focused on describing some eccentric aspect of British nobility like the Gurneys, and other characters with special aspects also like the communist butler and the German Psychiatric which I think that Barnes didn’t arbitrarily create such characters just to add the humoristic touch to the movie (play) rather it is a sort of subliminal messages.
In the second part the movie totally transform from humoristic into a very dark comedy full of violence and thrills. In the last 70/80 minutes Jack transforms after being “cured” from his delusions and schizophrenia into this crude and ferocious nobleman that aims to purge England from “its diseases” and so Jack plunge into the sort of Jack the Ripper butchery acts.
The transition in the character development is quit fascinating. The scene were Dr. Herder, Jack’s psychiatric, put Jesus Christ (Jack) and the AC/DC God into a sort of clash in order to prove that “it is impossible that two objects (Gods) can occupy the same space at the same time” which is as I interpreted a sort of metaphoric clash between religion and science, better say that while there is science there is no place for religion.
The Ruling Class film was passed X by the British Board of Film Censors, means that the film is suitable for those aged 18 and over, despite that it didn’t contain any sort of nudity or any Adult Content from violence to language. However the only reason may that in the 1970’s and due to the conservative aspect of the British society this movie may be a sort of distortion for the British society’s ethics but still it succeeded to poster a very satirical image of the British society and the ruling class in England.