'Ruling Class' Has an Heir of Holy Madness About It

The wealthy and distinguished 13th Earl of Gurney, who gets his jollies by hanging from a noose in his bedroom, goes a little too far one day and--blast it all--dies.

Oops. Phone the heir.

This is about as sane as things get in "The Ruling Class," which follows the new earl's "road to sanity."

Those who were closest to the deceased earl (and believe the will failed to give them their fair share) are upset that such a big cut is going to the heir, his son (Peter O'Toole), who thinks he's Jesus Christ.

What follows is an effort to put the new earl, or J.C., as he likes to be called, in his place (i.e. in a straitjacket) and to let saner, and greedier, minds prevail.

Why does J.C. think he's God?

"It's simple," he says. "When I pray to him, I find I'm talking to myself."

The theory of J.C.'s psychologist (Michael Bryant) is that since J.C. suffers from delusions of grandeur, he must, as an English aristocrat, believe he's the one person grander than himself--God.

If you can't tell by now, the movie pokes fun at the British ruling class, whose members make all kinds of speeches dripping with dignity about "our England" this and "our England" that, but whose behavior is anything but dignified.

The film also takes to task the way the upper crust defines insanity. After J.C. gives an impromptu sermon and declares that God's love "makes all men equal," his uncle (William Mervyn) declares, "He's not only mad, he's Bolshevik."

Despite the film's rampant lunacy, some sane and sobering themes emerge, not the least of which is that it's better to have delusions of love than delusions of hate.

"The Ruling Class" (1972), directed by Peter Medak. 154 minutes. Rated PG.

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