Michael Winterbottom’s latest film Greed (from 21 Feb, nationwide) stars Steve Coogan as ruthless fashion retailer and self-made billionaire Sir Richard McGreadie, whose high street empire is in crisis. After yet another of his businesses goes bankrupt, a public inquiry damages his reputation and people are calling for his knighthood to be stripped.
Sound familiar? While not a straightforward biopic, this exploration of the dark side of capitalism and fashion is heavily inspired by Philip Green, who was himself hauled before a parliamentary select committee after the collapse of British Home Stores.
Greed is an engaging, if somewhat scattershot mash-up of themes and styles that is part mockumentary, part social commentary and part Shakespearean tragedy. Much of the story takes place on a Greek island where McGreadie is due to celebrate his 60th birthday with an incongruously Roman-themed party. Following his image-bashing in the British press, celebrities due at the event are dropping out, while construction work on the fake coliseum is way behind schedule and the real-life lion isn’t being scary enough.
Attending the party is McGreadie’s official biographer Nick (David Mitchell), through whose often bewildered eyes much of the film takes place. We see Nick interviewing people from McGreadie’s past as he pieces together a portrait of both the man and the system that he’s used to strip high-street brands of their assets while dodging taxes on money made from cheap clothes made in sweatshops by a poorly paid and mostly female workforce.
The script by Winterbottom, with additional material from The Thick of It writer Sean Grey, is littered with razor sharp satire and there’s a lot of Malcolm Tucker channelled through the bullish McGreadie. Among the many strong performances is Dinita Gohil as Amanda, who works for the billionaire and has a personal and important connection to his business dealings. She provides a much-needed moral compass to proceedings – well, until the final act anyway.
The many themes thrown at this film do get muddled and lost at times. There’s an unnecessary and distracting subplot about a reality TV show that McGreadie’s daughter is involved in, for example. And in a film where everybody is corrupted by money in some way, it’s hard to feel sympathy for anyone. But then perhaps that’s the point.