On the Greek island of Mykonos, preparations are well underway for the lavish Gladiator themed 60th birthday party of multi-millionaire and ‘king of the high-street’, Sir Richard ‘Greedy’ McCreadie (Steve Coogan). A journalist turned biographer (David Mitchell) is on hand to document McCreadie’s life story, and some of his interviews with various acquaintances and family members combine with these present day events to form a mockumentary style movie, which gives us a closer look at how Sir Richard went from ruthless young schoolboy to ruthless self-made millionaire.
It’s 5 days until the party. Construction on a huge wooden Colosseum is progressing slowly, and a nearby caged lion is to be involved in a series of gladiator themed games for the big event. Although, as McCreadies moody teenage son (Asa Butterworth) snarkily points out, it was actually tigers that featured in the movie Gladiator, and not lions. Important discussions are also taking place as to where the firework display will be and where Fatboy Slim and Coldplay will be performing, overseen by McCreadie himself, all fake tan and bright white teeth. His first wife (Isla Fisher) arrives with her new partner and everyone is under pressure to be ready in time.
We’re taken right back to the beginning, Richards public school years. A rather unpleasant young Richard (Jamie Blackley) is back-chatting his teachers and playing cards with the other students for money. When his mother (Shirley Henderson) is called into the school, there is a heated exchange in the headmasters office and Richard ends up leaving the school. We then follow him out into the big wide world, wheeling and dealing within the fashion industry, confidently and persistently, until he eventually manages to land himself a small shop and enough stock to start undercutting his nearby rivals. It’s not long until Richard is heading out to Sri Lanka, meeting with sweatshop managers in order to play them off against each other for the lowest possible price in order to secure himself a huge profit. As Richard grows up into the adult version played by Coogan, there continues to be a steady stream of different clothing shops, big ideas, dodgy deals and plenty of mishaps for him to tackle in what are some of the films funnier scenes.
Greed takes a real scatter-gun approach to plots and scenes, which for the most part don’t really work. There is a completely pointless and dull subplot involving a reality TV show that’s being filmed on and around the beach, with another concerning a group of Syrian refugees who have the cheek to be camped out on the beach where the party is due to take place. We zip back and forth in time, occasionally dipping into a hearing regarding Sir Richard’s tax avoidance antics over the years and there’s never really enough time, or enough of a decent script, to make any of it very interesting or funny. The character of McCreadie, who is clearly loosely based on Topshop CEO Philip Green, is basically just a variation of Alan Partridge, slightly different voice, some extra swearing and anger thrown in, only less funny. The movie even features Tim “Sidekick Simon” Key from the Partridge shows as an exasperated employee, trying to keep the building of the Colosseum on track with a diminishing workforce. There are plenty of celebrity cameos shoehorned in too and the whole thing is just very hit and miss. But mostly miss.
Greed concludes by showing us some pretty sobering facts and figures. We’re informed that the 26 richest men in the world hold more wealth than that of the 3.6 billion poorest combined. We learn just how little the women in countries such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh earn in return for their long days putting together high street clothes, while the biggest names in retail turnover millions in profits each year. And we hear about the plight of the Syrian refugees trying to make their way to Greece. The greed and injustice of it all really hits home, and it does so far more effectively here than during the the rest of the movie.
Greed will be released in UK cinemas 21 February 2020