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What "Saltburn" gets right and wrong about going to Oxford

"Saltburn" offers a visually stunning and dramatically intense portrayal of life at Oxford University, capturing some truths while indulging in artistic exaggeration.

By Tunku Sophia

Photo: Courtesy of Prime Video


The allure of Oxford University, with its rich history and storied traditions, has long captivated filmmakers. "Saltburn," a film released on Amazon Prime Video in December 2023 (on which it became one of the most-streamed films), depicted life at this prestigious institution, aims to blend the romanticism of Oxford with the dark undertones of psychological thriller. Set in Oxford and Northamptonshire, it focuses on a student at Oxford who becomes fixated with a popular, aristocratic fellow student, who later invites him to spend the summer at his eccentric family's estate.

But how accurately does it capture the essence of being an Oxford student? Here, we dissect the film's portrayal, separating fact from fiction.

What "Saltburn" Gets Right

  1. The Awe-Inspiring Architecture

"Saltburn" does justice to Oxford's breathtaking architecture. The film's sweeping shots of ancient colleges, libraries, and quads evoke a sense of grandeur and history that is quintessentially Oxford. These iconic settings, such as the Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian Library, are meticulously represented, offering viewers a glimpse into the daily visual splendor that Oxford students experience.

  1. The Intense Academic Environment

The film accurately portrays the high-pressure academic environment that defines Oxford. Tutorials, the hallmark of an Oxford education, are depicted with a sense of rigor and intellectual challenge. The relentless pursuit of knowledge and the expectation to engage deeply with one's subject are well-captured, highlighting the demanding nature of an Oxford education.

  1. Traditional Social Rituals

Oxford's unique social fabric is woven with time-honored traditions, and "Saltburn" includes these elements effectively. Formal dinners, black-tie events, and rowing on the River Thames are all part of the authentic Oxford experience. These traditions foster a sense of camaraderie and continuity, linking current students with generations of alumni. If you’re going to a “guest night” in your college dining hall, however, you’re expected to wear black tie. If you happen to be in Oxford during term time, you’ll see the streets transform between 6 and 7 pm—off go the jeans and rowing gear and on go the tuxedos and ball gowns. It’s pretty disorientating to witness.

Photo: Courtesy of Prime Video

What "Saltburn" Gets Wrong

  1. Exaggerated Elitism and Exclusivity

While Oxford is undoubtedly an elite institution, "Saltburn" amplifies this aspect to a dramatic extent. The film's depiction of the social divide and exclusionary practices among students is exaggerated. In reality, Oxford's student body is diverse, and the university has made significant strides in widening access and promoting inclusivity.

  1. Overly Dark and Sinister Tone

"Saltburn" leans heavily into a dark, almost gothic atmosphere, portraying Oxford as a place rife with sinister undertones. While the university has its share of pressures and challenges, the overall experience is far more balanced. Many students find Oxford to be a place of personal growth, intellectual stimulation, and lifelong friendships, rather than the breeding ground for malevolence suggested by the film.

  1. Simplistic Character Archetypes

The film relies on familiar stereotypes—the brooding intellectual, the privileged elite, the outsider struggling to fit in. These characterizations, while effective for dramatic purposes, fail to capture the complexity and diversity of the Oxford student population. Students come from varied backgrounds and pursue a wide array of interests and passions, creating a rich tapestry of personalities that the film oversimplifies.


"Saltburn" offers a visually stunning and dramatically intense portrayal of life at Oxford University, capturing some truths while indulging in artistic exaggeration. For those familiar with Oxford, the film may feel like a blend of nostalgia and fantasy. For prospective students and admirers of the university, it serves as a reminder that while Oxford's grandeur and traditions are real, the true essence of the experience is far more nuanced and enriching.

At gentlemanscodes.com, we appreciate the effort to depict such an iconic institution, but we also recognize the importance of discerning fact from fiction in these portrayals. Oxford remains a beacon of academic excellence and tradition, where the reality, though less dramatized, is infinitely more rewarding.

"Saltburn" is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. You can watch the trailer below.

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