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Greed is good…

Steve Coogan stars in thinly-veiled comedy that leaves you wondering how a certain fashion industry billionaire sleeps at night

20 February, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Steve Coogan as Richard ‘Greedy’ McCreadie in Greed

GREED
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Certificate 15
☆☆☆☆

THE decline and fall of the Roman Empire was marked by extreme excesses by the haves and the brutal oppression of the have-nots.

The parallels between our world today, and what finally paid for the Romans, appear to be so blindingly obvious it seems weird that collectively as a species we can’t recognise this and are bickering among ourselves instead of rolling up our sleeves and trying to genuinely do something about it.

This crisis of materialism, this culture of “gimme, gimme” that consumes individuals, robs them of empathy and allows one to put their apparent personal needs above another is at the heart of this vicious satire.

Michael Winterbottom’s story is about a fashion tycoon whose wealth is as disgusting as his taste.

Led by the excellent Steve Coogan, this comedy uses the fashion retailer Sir Philip Green, whose behaviour has come to encapsulate everything rotten in the 21st-century West, as a thinly-veiled model for Coogan’s character Richard “Greedy” McCreadie, a complete scumbag of a billionaire.

We meet him as he is planning a grotesque 60th birthday party on a Greek island. We are given his back story and how he scammed his way to hideous riches through a personal biographer (David Mitchell), who is charged with writing a glowing portrait of a world-class rip-off merchant.

Thrown into the mix are side tales about Syrian refugees living on a beach that his party location overlooks, an employee whose family work in a Sri Lankan sweat shop, and the behaviour of McCreadie’s disgusting wives and offspring.

The targets here are not just disaster capitalism, and the monstrous asset stripping of Thatcherite wide boys. Nor does it only fire off shots at the morally repugnant idea that one human can have such riches off the back of others who earn so little for long working days that they live in complete poverty.

It also shows how vile the fashion industry is, from the business practices of those who peddle their wares, to the abhorrent way they sell lifestyle and imagery and the damage it does to all of us.

This film is in no way subtle, and isn’t exactly revealing: a scene where the biographer asks an FT journalist to very carefully and slowly explain how his business was built feels like a quick run-through of post-industrial Western capitalism for dummies. There is no big reveal.

But it’s funny in places – not bad for a subject that is actually utterly depressing and tragic – and above all it is a story that needs to be told to as wide an audience as possible, so using a film like this to do so is welcome.

Wait until the credits roll for some hard facts. It will make you never want to wear a high street brand ever again.

It will make you wonder how someone like Philip Green sleeps at night, and lament the fact there is no judgement day for the likes of him to face when his time on earth is up.

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