Film

Greed shows a darker side to the lifestyles of the rich and famous

Steve Coogan and Michael Winterbottom's Greed may be set in a rich man's world, but behind the superyachts there's a serious message

Steve Coogan in Greed

Steve Coogan appears in Greed, a brash, funny satire with a conscience from Michael Winterbottom, playing a bullying billionaire tycoon, Sir Richard “Greedy” McCreadie.

A tabloid celebrity with a barrow-boy persona, Sir Greedy has wheeled and dealed his way to the top of retail, the King of the High Street, stashing his dosh away in tax-free Monaco where he keeps a $100m superyacht. Any resemblance to an actual person here is entirely intentional. Greed seems to be a thinly veiled portrait of Topshop boss Philip Green.

It begins hilariously, the script written by Winterbottom with additional material, presumably the one-liners and acid burn insults, by The Thick of It and Veep’s Sean Gray.

We meet McCreadie on the Greek island of Mykonos where he is throwing himself a lavish 60th birthday bash. The theme is Ancient Rome, with a toga party and purpose-built amphitheatre. Coldplay and Keith Richards are flying in to play on the beach and the guest list includes McCreadie’s personal international A-lister pals. But things are not going to plan. Syrian refugees camping in UN tents on the beach are ruining the view. The builders have botched the amphitheatre and a lion rented for mock gladiator games has got jetlag – “He looks like a rescue cat that needs to be put down.”

Coogan makes McCreadie a bit of an Alan Partridge; he’s got that same preening, puffed-up self-importance. If anything, his portrait is a bit too likeable. McCreadie is a man known for his psychotic need to bully and humiliate employees. But his bollockings measure a gentle-ish 2.7 magnitude. (Certainly they’re not quite up there with The Thick of It’s lacerating Tuckerisms: “I’d love to stop and chat but I’d rather have Type-2 diabetes.”)

In flashback, Winterbottom gives us McCreadie’s life-story. His rags-to-riches public image turns out to be a porky; riches-to-more-riches is closer to the truth. He was privately educated, it turns out, at a boarding school where he was known as a cocky twat. After being expelled, McCreadie goes into the rag trade, building his empire on cut-throat negotiating, squeezing the profit margins of factory bosses in Sri Lanka where female workers already earn less than £4 a day.

Coogan makes McCreadie a bit of an Alan Partridge; he’s got that same preening, puffed-up self-importance

Back in Mykonos, McCreadie’s family arrives for the party: glamorous ex-wife (Isla Fisher), vapid reality TV star daughter (Sophie Cookson) and emotionally inadequate snivelling son (Asa Butterfield). There’s nothing here to match the dynastic backbiting and infighting of a dysfunctional family of Succession, though David Mitchell is terrific as a stammering, bumbling journalist hired to write McCreadie’s authorised biography, a nice enough bloke with principles so long as they don’t require him to stand up to the boss. Dinita Gohil is also good as Amanda, a British-Sri Lankan employee with family working in a sweatshop in Colombo making clothes for McCreadie.

Greed would feel a bit underdeveloped, were it not for a gear shift in the final 30 minutes as Winterbottom embarks on thoughtful exposé of the human cost of fast fashion. Who is paying the price of cheap clothes? McCreadie’s fashion empire, like much of the fashion industry, is built on low-paid, mostly female, workers in developing countries and in the UK, a point Winterbottom powerfully makes at the end of his film. Greed is not good. But this film ain’t half bad.

Greed is out now in cinemas

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