The Ruling Class is a 1972 Peter O’Toole comedy-drama film about an earl who thinks he’s Jesus. If you think about it, it’s a bit like David Icke: Earl Jack thinks he’s Jesus, and people go along with it because he’s famous. Then someone proves to him that he isn’t Jesus and he turns around and believes in something equally ridiculous instead (of course the difference being that Jack turned to believe he was Jack the Ripper while David Icke turned to believe that pan-dimensional lizards walk among us). The point is, no one can say anything because Jack is the owner of the estate, so the best they can hope for is that he’ll get married and have a son to be the new heir. Of course, the worst happens: As Jack appears to get saner and saner, his antics cause everyone around him to get crazier and crazier.
This is a weird frickin’ movie. A bit like Dennis Potter’s shows, the characters spontaneously burst into song, but it doesn’t happen often enough to fit in with the style–maybe just three times in two and a half hours. We also dip into Jack’s psychosis, complete with visions of zombies. There’s nudity, bloody murders, sword fighting, and plenty of innuendo, and to think this was rated PG in the 70s!
That said, it is a very good film that works on many levels. It’s a satire on the ruling class, certainly, but it explores themes of madness, identity, and compassion as well. Jack is a complicated, ever-shifting character, and O’Toole plays him adeptly, from the dogmatic preacher to stammering simpleton to cold-hearted killer. You can watch it on Hulu.