By Katie O’Shaughnessy
Sex in film is strange. It’s a part of life that seems distinctly private. The sex scenes in Saltburn left the
audience of my packed theatre quite… uncomfortable? The room was filled with nervous laughter as
the audience looked anywhere but the screen.
Saltburn, helmed by Emerald Fennell, is a film about deception. The gothic dark comedy follows
Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) as he begins at Oxford University. He meets and cosies up to Felix
(Jacob Elordi), who brings him into a world of hedonism and ostentatious wealth at his family estate –
Saltburn. There, Oliver seems lost in the strangeness of the place – so unlike his life before. Things
become, as Fennell told Sky News: “A sticky place where you have sympathy for the devil”.
The sex scenes in Saltburn are meant to garner a reaction. They are not necessarily pleasurable and
watching them feels intensely voyeuristic. All four sex scenes are carefully shot and memorable in the
setting. The first – set in a bath – is the most startling of the film. The scene “does for bathtubs what
Call Me by Your Name did for peaches”, as a top Letterbox review says. The image was actually why
Fennell made the film. She told Screen Daily: “The film started seven or eight years ago with an
image of someone licking the bottom of the bathtub… Desire is not all candles and jazz; it can be
The filmmakers wanted to create a world that felt “beautiful but also a bit shit.” The distinct humanity
is what grounds the film in the reality of 2006/7. The scenes of romanticism and sex are just the same.
As Fennell referenced, when Felix is snogging an unknown girl, the room is flooded in ethereal red
light that bounces across the dorm – but it’s reflecting off of Red Bull cans and old crisp packets. I
found the scene between Oliver and Venetia (Alison Oliver), Felix’s sister, to be so compelling –
despite its human qualities, it’s shot so hedonistically.
The film will be a Gen Z classic – I just know it. With its classical gothic influence, à la Rebecca and
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it remains distinctly modern. Fennell changed the nature of the period
piece and brought a nostalgic quality to a still uncool period
.However, I think the cinematography of sex will prove Saltburn to be a classic. The sex on screen becomes one of the most crucial plot
devices to understand Oliver and the strange goings on at Saltburn.