All empires come to an end. And, somewhat fittingly, director Michael Winterbottom has invited us all to the Greek island of Mykonos to witness the debauched final days of Sir Richard “Greedy” McCreadie’s empire. McCreadie (Steve Coogan) is a billionaire fashion mogul and owner of the popular high-street fashion chain “Monda”. His dodgy dealings and ostentatious lifestyle – alongside a massive pension deficit at Monda – have attracted the unwanted attention of the British government. To deflect attention from his sweaty appearance before an unimpressed Select Committee, McCreadie has organised a star-studded celebration for his 60th birthday.
McCreadie has always been greedy. In fact, he gave himself the name while he was a public schoolboy, happily conning his chums out of their lunch money, becoming well-known for his sleight-of-hand magic tricks. He is finally thrown out of school and quickly starts to make money in the rag trade. He opens store after store before one day discovering the low cost of labour in Sri Lanka and moving his production abroad. In one fell swoop, a king of the high street is born.
Back to the present and Mykonos is a hive of activity. An MDF coliseum is being built; an indifferent lion is brought in as entertainment; a camera crew is constantly filming; and Syrian refugees camped outside on the beach are spoiling the view. Looking similarly stranded and bemused is journalist Nick (David Mitchell), who has been brought along to write an official biography of McCreadie and collect brown-nosing birthday messages. McCreadie’s empty-headed daughter Lily (Sophie Cookson) is filming a reality television show, while his malcontent son Finn (Asa Butterfield) skulks around resentfully. The only person straightforwardly enjoying herself is McCreadie’s ex-wife Samantha (Isla Fisher), who has come along mainly to watch Sir Richard wriggle.
There is a strong element of upstairs/downstairs in Greed. McCreadie’s yacht, massive dividends, celebrity parties, trophy wife and £20,000 new teeth are all paid for by the labour of those offstage. There are the workers who lose their jobs every time one of his businesses closes and there are the women who work long hours in bad conditions for low pay in places such as Sri Lanka. Caught in the middle is Amanda (Dinita Gohil), who works as an assistant for McCreadie but whose mother died when one of McCreadie’s sweatshops burned down. Amanda’s conflicted feelings of disgust and complicity are really the heart of the film.
Winterbottom and Coogan have a lot of fun with very deserving targets. Sir “Greedy” McCreadie is obviously modelled on Sir Philip “Greed” Green and his tanned, jet-setting ilk are well satirised. There are good jokes at the expense of annoying people like Bono and good sports like James Blunt who turn up to mock themselves. The amorality of celebs who cash in by performing for dubious billionaires is nicely skewered (“Robbie Williams is the same price as Elton John? He’s got a f***ing nerve!”). The callous self-absorption of everyone involved is shown in their ridiculous statements (“I always think of Diana when I need to cry”).
The film clearly desires the uneasy friction produced when these two worlds collide. There is, however, a feeling that Greed is two separate films uneasily combined. There are affecting and serious moments showing the real-life cost of our cheap clothes. These are straightforward, documentary-like scenes, where Sri Lankans tell Nick how they are exploited – exactly how little they are paid and how many hours they work. These scenes are awkwardly followed by Steve Coogan in comic teeth swearing about fuchsia being French for “f**k me!”. Winterbottom wants both solemnity and a barrel of laughs.
Greed is crude and uneven. But it is also a very funny film about a stratum of society which deserves every opportunity to be mocked. It also focuses on a very serious issue that deserves every opportunity to be altered.
Greed is released nationwide on 21st February 2020.
Watch the trailer for Greed here: