By John Prendle
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Issue 455

Greed stars the actor Steve Coogan in a comic take-down of the world of the top one percent. It’s based around a retail boss’s 60th birthday party at his private villa on the Greek island of Mykonos,

The film nominally features the fictional Sir Richard “Greedy” McCreadie. But it’s all about Sir Philip Green. He’s the Topshop supremo who accrued fabulous wealth as he waded through a series of profitable financial manoeuvres and then devastated thousands of lives as the reality led to collapse.

As director Michael Winterbottom told the Financial Times, “Our lawyers were like, you’ve got to make it accurate, then it’s not libellous”.

Is it possible to create a genuinely funny film while at the same time making a serious political point? I think so.

I enjoyed most of Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin. I laughed and didn’t think I was thereby undermining the horrors of 1930s Russia or trampling on the memory of those purged, sent to the gulag or murdered. The question really is the quality of the comedy, and there isn’t a “funometer” you can point at the screen and read off its success or failure.

There are brilliant bits—the flashback to McCreadie as an odious public schoolboy and the scene set in a parliamentary committee. Here McCreadie is asked why he has pulled his companies out of the Ethical Trading Initiative—“Waste of time,” he replies. Asked about the poverty conditions that his wealth is based on, McCreadie replies, “That’s the market!”

There are bits that have been questioned as preachy. A boatload of Syrian refugees are camped on beach, threatening to ruin the party guests’ view. McCreadie orders their removal, saying, “Can’t they find refuge somewhere out of view? They’ve come a long way—they won’t mind going a bit further.”

This disrupts a carefully-planned moment where his daughter—filming for a Kardashian-style TV show about the rich and beautiful—is handing out food to the refugees before grabbing it back and denouncing their lack of visible gratitude.
Have the refugees been shoehorned into the film to make it more “serious”? I thought it just shows you exactly what the loathsome rich would say and do.

Because Coogan and Winterbottom know a lot about how show business works, you wonder if some of the party-planning is actually telling you the truth. Perhaps Elton John will turn up and play a few songs at your bash for $1 million. Maybe Tom Jones will come for $350,000, and James Blunt might play a single song for $75,000.

Actually those sound a bit on the low side to me—especially Tom Jones.

The lives of the rich are both grotesque and disgusting. Green sucked £1.5 billion from British Home Stores. A lot of it went to his wife in Monaco and thereby avoided British taxation.

The entire film production of Greed cost £5 million. That’s less than the cost of Green’s actual 60th celebrations in Mexico—£6.5 million.

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