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What Went Wrong With… Greed (2019)?

A fuchsia image of Steve Coogan in Michael Winterbottom's film Greed

Greed is a so-called satirical film written and directed by Michael Winterbottom. The movie is “inspired by” the life of billionaire Sir Philip Green, chairman of the Arcadia Group, a company which owns multiple high street clothing stores in the UK including Burton and Topshop. Green famously bought department store BHS for £200 million but sold it for £1 five years later after accruing over a £1 billion in debt including a pension deficit. Philip Green aside from being a ruin-er of businesses and a Conservative, is a twat in many other ways. He’s been accused by activist groups of tax avoidance, using sweatshops, sexually harassing his staff, he also made a racist comment about Irish people and has allegedly racially abused his own employees, and yet he received a knighthood from the frigging Queen. This all-round cunt is definitely someone who needs to be mocked and his fucked-up exploits called-out, but unfortunately Greed doesn’t succeed in doing this, in fact you wonder if this movie is what I like to call a “diversion film” – a film that purportedly tackles someone or something but it’s made badly (on purpose) so the public don’t delve any more into the subject.

Steve Coogan plays Sir Richard McCreadie, a high-street fashion mogul who lives in Monaco which we’re told is a tax haven… check, he also owns a yacht… check, he puts his business in his wife’s name… check, he uses sweatshops… check, he bullies his staff… check. So far so good, but McCreadie is obviously Steve Coogan… as in he looks and acts like Steve Coogan, the likeable, funny guy, not the bald, overweight ballbag Philip Green who ruins people’s lives. Not being called “Philip Green” and not looking anything like Philip Green are two of the main reasons why you’re never convinced of the film’s motives of err… calling attention to Sir Philip, Sir fucking Green.

The acting or the actors are the first major problem. With the exception of Shirley Henderson (who plays McCreadie’s mother Margaret) and Dinita Gohil (who plays McCreadie’s assistant), everyone is essentially playing themselves. David Mitchell, Miles Jupp, Tim Key, Asim Chaudhry, even Steve Coogan, everyone seems to have shown up on set without any idea who they’re playing and they’ve all decided it seems, to read aloud the script using for the most part, their own accents and their own mannerisms. David Mitchell in particular is so “David Mitchell” that you can barely call it acting. It’s not much of a stretch for him to play a middle-aged, slightly overweight, slightly passive, shaggy-bearded, historical buff who corrects people’s quotes. At one point Mitchell’s character says “I can’t help it if my jokes are so shit [they’re taken as actual suggestions]”… well, the first bit of that line is right Dave. It’s quite embarrassing when a reality star from Made In Chelsea (Ollie Locke who plays McCreadie’s daughter’s closeted boyfriend Fabian) is a better actor than the actual bloody actors! Given that most of the “stars” are also comedians, it’s quite the disappointment that Greed is so unfunny. Every single comedic line is delivered badly. For instance “I’m not a gynaecologist but I know a cunt when I see one” is potentially a humourous moment but not when it’s delivered by Sacha Baron Cohen‘s wife. Alongside Isla Fisher, Stephen Fry also pops-up for a cameo because either he’s a Grecophile (more on that later) or he’s also a shite comedian.

Similar to Guy Ritchie’s The Gentleman, Michael Winterbottom seems to insert the word “cunt” into his screenplay thinking it’ll make up for a lacklustre script. It doesn’t. Aside from the script itself, the story is also poorly constructed. Winterbottom doesn’t seem to know who to focus on: the central character or the central character’s official biographer. David Mitchell plays Nick, a man who is paid to write Richard McCreadie’s biography but the film doesn’t really hone in on him and his moral quandary or Richard’s life (whether in the present or in the past). Speaking of the past and present, there’s multiple flashbacks, a few to the biographer doing his job, then further flashbacks from interviewees (friends of McCreadie’s) recollecting Sir Richard as a young man (cue another flashback). From these flashbacks, there’s cutting back to the present where McCreadie’s party plans in Greece are underway. This Greek-set party mirrors, I assume, Philip Green’s real-life, French Riviera “event” where Destiny’s Child and Andrea Bocelli were hired to perform? In budget film-form however, this rich-man’s fantasy party features performances by Fatboy Slim and Pixie Lott… oh wow! 😂

There’s a party-planning scene in this movie in which two characters mock McCreadie’s instruction for it to resemble “Gladiator meets The Great Gatsby” and they then begin to recite “films beginning with ‘G’”. Godfather and Goodfellas is among the movies mentioned and even with Baz Luhrmann‘s awful Great Gatsby in there, you’d rather be watching those. And whilst on the topic of Gladiator, the script mentions and references it so many times that David Franzoni and Ridley Scott should probably get producer credits. But I digress.

Aside from the Greek birthday party, we’re also offered a backstory that on some level humanises or even makes excuses for Sir Philip… I mean Sir Richard. This comes in the form of his mother being an immigrant and his father dying… sob, sob. In real life, Green’s father died when he was twelve years old and he inherited the family business. Philip Green is Jewish but apparently vilifying a Jew isn’t to the tastes of Hollywood so writer Mikey Cold-Arse has for some reason made him Irish (which is odd given Green’s anti-Irish comments).

Other strange additions to this film include name titles in the lower corner of the screen when someone’s being interviewed by Nick but these characters are fictional so what’s the point? That being said, it’s one of these interviews that makes for the most interesting scene. A character tells the audience via a discussion with Nick about “asset stripping” which as I understand it is: a businessman like Sir Philip Green buys a business that has assets (namely buildings) using a loan secured on the business itself. He then sells the properties and makes the company rent them back. This wipes the debt created by the purchase of the business which utilised bank loans and so on paper the business looks like it’s doing great when in reality it’s sold everything it once owned. Had the film included more of this type of information, Greed would be a worthwhile film but alas, it doesn’t.

Sir Richard McCreadie does attend a Parliamentary Select Committee which is a reference to Sir Philip Green giving evidence to The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and Work & Pensions Committee about the demise of BHS. This potentially accurate scene is then ruined when a protester pies him in the face… but hold on, that happened to Rupert Murdoch (kind of) so now McCreadie represents anyone rich? Companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google are also mentioned in this parliamentary committee and so too is U2’s Bono who moved part of his business to the Netherlands to lessen it’s tax burden (although it’s incorrectly stated that Bono moved his business to “Holland”). Hey, while you’re mentioning tax avoiders, why not mention Jimmy Carr? Is it ’cause he’s a friend of most of the cast? Forget bent panel show presenters, let’s stick to singers shall we? 🧐

And on that note, celebrity names such as “Shakira”, “Elton John”, and “Robbie Williams” are mentioned in Greed, but then you start to wonder: are these the actual people who performed for Green or for other dodgy billionaires? Stars such as Ben Stiller, Keira Knightly, Chris Martin, and Louis Walsh appear in video footage which plays during McCreadie’s birthday party. So is this the visual equivalent of name-dropping by the film-maker or are these stars the type to congratulate the Philip Greens of the world? According to Wikipedia, celebs such as Tom Jones, Rod Stewart, Rihanna, One Direction, the aforementioned Andrea Bocelli and Destiny’s Child all appeared at Green’s events for large fees. Louis Walsh who appears in this video footage once appeared at a Philip Green event along with Simon Cowell so I wonder why he took part in this film? Greed also attempts to mock reality shows but like I said, its cast features a reality star. Ollie Locke appearing in this film makes about as much sense as Walsh’s appearance. Celebrities bashing other celebrities by using certain celebrities to fill in for other celebrities, it all becomes very confused, not to mention murky.

SPOILERS AHEAD

At the end of the film, McCreadie’s business goes to his children Lily, Adrian, and Finn, and Finn (played by Asa Butterfield) is more ruthless than his father. So is this a comment about Green himself who inherited a business from his dad or is it a comment about his children who’ll probably inherit it after he dies? Or is this a comment about nepotism in general? Let’s not forget that nepotism is rife in the entertainment sector too; just look at David Mitchell’s wife Victoria Coren Mitchell: daughter of writer Alan Coren, sister of food writer and presenter Giles Coren, cousin of talk show host Michael Coren. Giles Coren’s wife Esther Walker is the sister of comedian Alexander Armstrong’s wife. Armstrong descends from William the Conqueror. His relatives include engineer and industrialist William Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong and economist Lucius Thompson-McCausland. And what about Armstrong’s comedy mate Ben Miller (as in the crappy duo “Armstrong And Miller”)? He descends from Samuel Lincoln which makes him a relative of President Abraham Lincoln. We really don’t want to get into that do we? Wouldn’t want an Inclusion Rider ruining this and other filmic gatherings of connected, over-privileged wankers.

You can just picture the luvvie meetings that took place before this film began shooting… Coogan met Stiller on Tropic Thunder, he met Winterbottom on The Trip, he met Tim Key on Alan Partridge. Miles and Asim both appeared in Would I Lie To You? so they’ve met David. But what about David Mitchell himself? Did he show up because of the opening and closing quote by E.M. Forster “Only Connect” thinking it had something to do with his wife Victoria Coren’s TV show? But I digress once more.

Greed tries too hard to tackle everything wrong with society: wealth disparity, tax avoidance, sweat shops, sexism, reality stars, refugees… yes, all these topics and associated points of views are commendable but a satire needs to be a lot more focussed in order to work. During the finale, a bidding war ensues for the serialisation of Nick’s novel. Great, but Nick and Richard McCreadie are fictional so who the fuck cares? Is the satire moving into the scruples of writers now too? Oh brilliant… not.

Greed is supposed to be a satirical comedy but it doesn’t have the gumption to name the real-life villain even though its references are so obvious that Coogan might as well have donned a fat suit and some bald-head latex prosthesis. I mean, is “Monda” Topman? Is “Hoffs” BHS? We’re told that “M&J” went bust so maybe that’s BHS? Well, “M&J” is not M&S which is the only real retailer mentioned in the film although Sir Philip’s 2004 bid for Marks & Spencer’s isn’t.

That’s not the only aspect where everybody involved have wussed-out however. According to an article by The Independent, Winterbottom’s original cut of the film included (just before the credits I assume) captions calling attention to other unscrupulous companies and celebrities including the owners of H&M and Zara. According to the quote by Winterbottom, the movie “originally pointed out that people like Beyoncé and Stevie Wonder, Robbie Williams, Tom Jones, Jennifer Lopez and Destiny’s Child have all been happy to take cash to go and play at Philip Green’s parties”. Without this damning finale however, Greed is just an ill-defined and throwaway film that’ll be forgotten about faster than Philip Green’s crimes.

Back to the subject of Greece, the Mykonos birthday location is supposed to lead to some kind of crescendo but it doesn’t… not really. In the end, the fictional king of the high street is mauled to death by the king of the jungle but is there any point to a CGI lion in a satire about a high-street mogul? As it’s pointed out in the film, it’s a tiger in the movie Gladiator not a lion but even then, the emperor isn’t killed by a big cat. Sir Philip Green owns a yacht called “Lionheart” (as well as one called “Lioness V” and “Lionchase”) so maybe it’s a comment about that. But unless Green snuffs it in a yachting accident, there’s not much cause for “death by lion” to be included in this movie. And sure, the daughter of the sweatshop worker who dies under McCreadie’s cost-cutting measures gets her revenge but fictitious vengeance does nothing for the satire or the insinuated life of Philip Green. It’s pure fantasy. In real life, billionaires get to exploit people for the rest of their lives, there’s never any retribution.

Poor people around the world are being fucked over by the rich. Even in the glorious West we have zero hour contracts and pay as you go jobs, we have unreachable targets that lead to stress and mental illness. Workers are treated like robots; made to clock-in and clock-out every time they take a toilet break and stretch their legs. Okay, so it’s not as bad as conditions in sweatshops but this problem is much bigger than fashion and retail, it’s everywhere. The problem with filmic representations of this issue is that a. nobody in the audience is gonna do anything about it after watching a film and b. whether it’s Ken Loach’s utterly bleak and miserable Sorry We Missed You or Michael Winterbottom’s light-hearted Greed, making a crap film is hardly the way you change the world.

Greed is not particularly funny and it’s not particularly scathing either and since those were the film’s intentions, it’s quite the failure (unless of course, it’s a diversion film or a tax right-off). Greed is a very mundane movie that would look more at home on Film4 than on the big screen. Given that Michael Winterbottom is renowned for making mediocre garbage, I don’t know why I expected more, more fool me I guess.

Bottom line: the film-makers could have saved their money by making a short film that consisted solely of a huge title reading “Sir Philip Green is a greedy bastard”. That would have been more to the point. But it wouldn’t have generated as much profit would it?

Greedy.

Writing: 3/10

Directing: 3/10

Acting: 3/10

Overall: 3/10

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