Barry Keoghan is a singular screen presence. Perhaps you saw the Dublin-born actor in The Banshees of Inisherin as damaged village idiot Dominic, outshining the headline stars with a broken-hearted line reading so casually devastating – “Well, there goes that dream” – it became shorthand for the entire film. (He was Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actor and also won a Bafta.)
Keoghan’s naturalistic deportment and distinctive features have also added unexpected depth to recent blockbusters like Dunkirk and superhero fantasy The Eternals. In 2017’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer – another film where Keoghan starred opposite Farrell – he transformed the mundane act of eating spaghetti into something deeply ominous.
So we know he can do magnificent work in the margins. What is Keoghan like as a lead? In the blackly comic class satire Saltburn – writer- director Emerald Fennell’s follow-up to her Oscar-winning debut Promising Young Woman – he is presented as a Promising Young Man.
The year is 2006 and Merseyside student Oliver Quick (Keoghan) is trying to fit in at his posh new Oxford college. If higher education offers a chance to reinvent yourself, it seems like the bespectacled Oliver is a dry run for Will from The Inbetweeners: studious, socially awkward and dressed like a square.
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It doesn’t help that a rigid clique structure seems to be in place from the outset, with Tatler-ready rich boys like campus heartthrob Felix (Jacob Elordi) and elegant waster Farleigh (Archie Madekwe) at the top of the social hierarchy. With his dorky demeanour and impoverished background – there are hints of drink and drugs problems back home – Oliver seems destined to remain an outcast while everyone else embraces the hedonism of student life.