High-Rise, JG Ballard’s novel of class struggle between the toffs on the upper floors and the plebs below, has been put on the screen by director Ben Wheatley and writer Amy Jump. Not exactly updated, the Film4-funded High-Rise has been set in an alternative 1970s. The weirdly disengaged Tom Hiddleston, playing Dr Robert Laing, moves into a middle-range, minimalist yuppie flat, below the ultra-opulent, shag-pile carpets and sunken floors of architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) and his wife Ann’s (Keeley Hawes) Regency roof garden, complete with sheep, a horse and a Bo-Peep costume for Ann. Luckily, Laing is above the cluttered council flat that northern working-class rebel Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) lives in with heavily pregnant Elizabeth Moss. The film exercises all our latter-day class-warfare fixations on the property market, and the squeezing of the poor to make way for the rich. In Ballard’s fantasy, all of this is played out in the contest between floors, with the toffs tooling up to seize all the resources – ‘booze and canapes’ – in a fascist takeover of the 10th-floor supermarket, while Wilder foments rebellion from below.
Pangbourne, a smug James Purefoy, is the chief of the top floor’s militia, and is played with posh-boy Rugby club brutalism, with the bouncer-gofer Simmons (Dan Renton Skinner) making a grab for power as fascist leader. ‘I don’t work for you’, he says, turning on Anthony. ‘I work for the building’. Every line jars. ‘Keep the change’, says Laing to the supermarket cashier. ‘There isn’t any.’