"Greed" tells the story of self-made 'British' billionaire Sir Richard McCreadie (Steve Coogan), whose retail empire is in crisis. For 30 years he has ruled the world of retail fashion, bringing the high street to the catwalk and the catwalk to the high street, but after a damaging public inquiry, his image is tarnished. To save his reputation, he decides to bounce back with a highly publicized and extravagant party celebrating his '60th' birthday on 'The Greek Island Of Mykonos'. A satire on the grotesque inequality of wealth in the fashion industry, the film sees McCreadie’s rise and fall through the eyes of his biographer, Nick (David Mitchell).
The film opens in Mykonos, Greece, where Richard McCreadie is building a wooden 'Roman Amphitheatre' for the amusement of his guests, who are flying in from all over the world. McCreadie’s party is always intended to be 'Roman'-themed. It’s actually quite similar to the kind of parties that people like Philip Green have always thrown. These ostentatious displays of wealth. In fact, in a way, you might say that someone like Philip Green is being more honest than other people who try to present themselves as a more touchy-feely version of capitalism, the Richard Branson, approach to capitalism. Having a woolly jumper and a beard makes him seem very friendly, but, really, it’s the same thing, just different clothes. So the decadence of 'The Roman Empire' seems to be a good metaphor for the decadence of 'The Modern Age'. And that parallel is drawn unwittingly by the character of Richard McCreadie. As the party draws nearer, McCreadie and his son Finn (Asa Butterfield) trade quotes from the 2000 Ridley Scott film "Gladiator", about a Roman general who wreaks his revenge on the corrupt emperor who sold him into slavery. It’s a very good metaphor, because it’s celebrating the idea of someone who can only measure success in a very macho, aggressive, testosterone-fuelled way. It’s a very Donald Trump-like rationale, really, it’s a very unambiguous, unsophisticated, but very popular way of thinking about success. This also explains the reasoning for McCreadie hosting what he thinks is the most extravagant party of the season. One theme of the film is the gap between the lives of the women making clothes for McCreadie’s brands and the lifestyle that can be bought by the billions of profits from their labor. So it has to be a lavish party, and we feel that a 'Roman'-themed party, with McCreadie cast as a 'Roman Emperor',
As the guests start filing in for the festivities, we see that McCreadie is suddenly concerned by the arrival of some Syrian refugees in the coastline where his 'Roman Amphitheatre' is being built. In fact, McCreadie is not concerned at all by their plight. Instead, he worries that the great and good will have their evening spoiled by the temporary camp that’s been set up next door. McCreadie’s frantic obsession with pandering to his celebrity guests offered a rich seam of satire. One of the themes of the film is the way business billionaires like McCreadie use celebrities to try to make themselves glamorous, and part of the narrative of the film is that he's trying to get these celebrities, who’ve always come to his parties in the past, to come to his latest party. Because, having had his businesses investigated, and, having been criticized in the press, he’s trying to restore his reputation, so he thinks that getting all these celebrities to come along will restore his image and his brand. Which means part of the narrative is; is that strategy going to work? And will it help him reinvent himself as king of the high street? One aspect of the world of fashion that McCreadie embodies is the way it uses celebrity and fame to make their world seem glamorous, hence the use of celebrities to endorse lines of fashion in their shops.
People can buy a £10 dress and somehow feel connected to Kate Moss or Beyoncé. It’s a way of making your business grow. And equally connected to that's the fact that rich people like to be seen with glamorous people, so the party is really a kind of marketing exercise, in the hope that McCreadie’s brand will become successful again, which is a way a lot of big businesses work these days. Let’s face it, celebrities, by their very nature, have plenty of money, but they’re quite happy to get paid to add a little glamor to clothes being made by people with very little money. They’ll still fly off to a free party on someone’s yacht, even though they’ve got $50m in the bank. The people we've in the film understand that's not a very positive image of someone like Richard McCreadie, they’re people who are happy to make fun of themselves and don’t mind sending themselves up. Aside from the bona fide celebrities, there's also a joke about the use of star lookalikes to pad out the A-list guest quota. The party on Mykonos is very surreal. It's surreal anyway to be doing a night shoot with a bunch of people wearing togas, in the sand. But it's also surreal because as well as the actors we've these amazingly fun guest cameos, people like Stephen Fry, Fatboy Slim and Pixie Lott.
The film comes up with the character of Richard 'Greedy' McCreadie, a self-made man whose reputation takes a dramatic tumble just as he prepares to celebrate his '60th' birthday with a highly publicized toga party in Greece. Richard McCreadie is a complex character. It's a film about a larger-than-life businessman. He's someone who ostensibly seems quite odious, you've to mitigate that, you've to make the character funny, then that sugars the pill somewhat. So the audience is entertained by him while being repelled by him at the same time. He has his flaws, but he also has some good qualities as well. The film has this underlying message, which is a satire on the way that inequality has grown and grown over the last 30 years, in a way that McCreadie has definitely benefitted from. It's a film about Richard McCreadie’s career, and the ways in which he's a man of his times, from his dodgy, cheap beginnings in the ’80s with the whole rise of free-market 'Thatcherism' and globalization, without any great skills; just a determination to get rich. The film engages with that career right from the very moment his empire is starting to crumble. He has these overly white teeth made, which is a predilection of the super rich, they think that they look great with a permanent tan and ridiculously white teeth. They think, because they’re surrounded by 'yes' men, it makes them look really cool. But it just makes them look like a dick, and that’s funny. McCreadie wears well-tailored clothes, but they aren't too cool, just a bit unselfconsciously nouveau riche. There’s a sort of swagger to the way he walks. There’s a certain 'Estuary English' quality that he has, but he’s not too much of a barrow boy. He’s more of a public schoolboy who’s tried to rough himself up a bit because it makes him feel a bit 'Jack The Lad'. He likes to feel a bit street smart. And he's quite street smart; he’s a wheeler-dealer.
Needless to say, Richard McCreadie is also a very funny man, and he wields his sharp tongue like a razor. He certainly has a certain amount of wit. Someone like, for example, Philip Green does have a certain amount of wit, in his own bombastic way. You could say, if you’re being kind, that he has a certain kind of charisma that allows him a certain licence, for a certain period, to behave in a way that most people would consider unacceptable. Because there’s certainly an arrogance there, which is exposed at 'The Select Committee' meetings. The film uses the likes of Philip Green to raise the subject of this kind of exploitative slave labor that makes people rich. People involved in this world, they sleep like babies. It doesn’t bother them. Richard McCreadie is like that, the only kind of success he knows is material success. There’s a spiritual bone in his body. Richard McCreadie isn’t necessarily the bad guy, he’s just a larger-than-life example of what everyone does, which is making clothes as cheaply as possible and selling them for as much as possible, and one way to do that's to make the clothes in Cambodia or Bangladesh. It just struck us as a rich and quite simple way of looking at what's quite a complex subject, because you’re seeing it through the eyes of a billionaire who’s very hands on and who has built his business through the ’80s, ’90s and into the ’00s. In a way, Richard McCreadie represents that kind of era; how the markets work, how the world has changed, how capitalism has changed, how globalization has changed the world, and so on. McCreadie is someone who could bring together quite large, different strands of how the world has changed in the last 30 years; he’s a man of his time. And one of the attractions is that you could draw together various different strands, whether it’s women workers in Sri Lanka, or dodgy business deals, or leveraged takeovers on 'The British High Street', from the point of view of one fictional character. He's quite a colourful character for the big screen.
As preparations get underway for Richard McCreadie’s party, "Greed" tells us the backstory of the billionaire entrepreneur, and does so through the character of Nick (David Mitchell), a journalist who's writing McCreadie’s biography. Nick is a kind of everyman, and he represents ‘us’, whether that’s ‘us’ in the audience or even ‘us’ as in the people who are making the film. He’s someone who's sympathetic. He's a sort of whoring himself around and has to write the adulatory biography of a terrible man. Nick is someone who isn’t morally strong. He’s not the good guy taking down the bad guy, he’s just trying to write the story of Richard McCreadie, and he’s in an ambiguous position. He’s on McCreadie’s side, and he’s being paid by him, but at the same time he doesn’t always approve of his character or his business methods. So he’s in the same position as the audience, and he sort of draws us through the story. It's clever that he’s written not as a nasty man, but as someone who’s as morally ambiguous as we all are. We can sit in judgement on this economic system, but we also have to participate in it, and Nick taking the money to write the book is an example of that. You can see why he does it and you don’t dislike him for doing it, but he dislikes himself for doing it. So that’s a good, morally ambiguous way in, rather than seeing the film through the eyes of a virtue-signalling, perfect person. He's a person who's really quite ethical but who has his morality compromised and feels bad about it. He represents a certain kind of complicity. He feels a little bit out of it and he tries to be witty, but he’s also a bit of a nerd. So that’s what he contributes vocally, but mainly he’s watching and absorbing and becoming troubled by it, because throughout the film he sees it all. So the acting challenge is to have a good reactive face without overdoing it, but also without just looking vacant.
Margaret (Shirley Henderson) is McCreadie’s mother. A lot of that character is really just Margaret coming in and inventing stuff, but it's a lot of reading around the careers of successful men, especially successful men in the retail fashion business, and it seems that, often, a strong mother is a factor that connected them. Margaret as a tougher, matriarchal version of Richard, someone who's all family, about getting on, about making money. Richard is made in her image, in a way. Samantha (Isla Fisher) is McCreadie’s ex-wife. Like the mother, Samantha, the ex-wife, is also strong, at least as strong as, if not stronger than, the Richard character. Samantha and Richard are divorced, but we’re one of those couples that probably should have stayed married. We've a great relationship. Partly because they're cut from the same cloth, so to speak. Samantha is very blasé about her wealth. She’s the kind of person who’s proud of being greedy, who sees nothing wrong with being able to exploit a system and enjoys very much the spoils of luxury. She’s essentially a deeply unlikable character. It seems that not all wives of billionaires live in the shadow of their husband’s success; some of them have thriving careers of their own and bring in a hefty fortune themselves. She's the kind of girl who likes to sit on a beach on a private island, Samantha’s also someone who’s very bright, who enjoys the sport of making money, who’s interested in numbers and being rich. So that makes her a much more interesting character than just being the trophy wife. She's more interested in the exterior and how she appears than she's with what’s going on inside. She’s great company, she’s funny and she’s provocative; in the very best way. It’s very interesting, because it’s not like she’s the long-suffering ex-wife. She loves Richard, even though they’ve broken up, and he loves her. That’s a very human quality. Samantha is a very believable, real character, and actually, on a personal level, really quite likeable. That’s one thing we've noticed when we've interacted with super-rich people; they can be great fun. But just because someone’s fun, it doesn’t mean they’re not nefarious or even wicked.
Presenting a more human side to McCreadie’s empire is Amanda (Dinita Gohil). She’s basically his 'PA', his right-hand woman, and she’s involved in the party planning. She uses to work for McCreadie back in one of his shops, so she started off in retail and has found herself working in the hospitality side of things for this big party that he’s having. Amanda is really hard-working, and, initially, she seems quite unassuming, but she surprises us, because, actually there’s a lot more that’s gone on in her life than we initially realized. This involves the revelation that Amanda has family involved in the overseas rag trade. We find out that Amanda’s mother used to work in a sweatshop in Bangladesh, and that there was a fire there, much like, for example, 'The Rana Plaza' fire, which was a particularly devastating fire that happened in Bangladesh in 2013, at a garment factory there. One aspect of this film that's always going to be technically challenging is how to somehow bring all these different strands together. We've to look at Richard’s early school days, then his early business career, then how he amassed a fortune and then how he avoided paying tax on that fortune, and how he managed to buy huge businesses when he didn’t have that much cash himself. The first mechanism to hold it together is a big party to salvage his reputation.
The film goes backwards and forwards to look at all these different aspects of McCreadie’s career. The film needs a character that draws these strands together. A connection between the women who are making clothes for McCreadie’s business empire in Sri Lanka, who are getting paid $4 a day, and the lavish party that McCreadie, who’s made his billions from those clothes, is throwing in Mykonos. So the main character that does that's Amanda, because her mother was a worker in Sri Lanka and her uncle works in the garment trade in Leicester. She uses to work for McCreadie’s retail empire, and now she works for the company that’s putting on the party. She crosses all the different strands of the film. She's most difficult character in the film. Although "Greed" begins with a somewhat light, irreverent tone the film takes a darker turn in the final third, when Richard McCreadie suddenly starts to become accountable to the people around him. There’s a morality tale aspect to it, in a way that hasn’t happened, well, so far, in reality. It’s wish fulfilment: you reap what you sow, what goes around comes around, call it what you like. It’s surprising, it’s shocking, it’s nasty, but you don’t see it coming and you didn’t know it's going to happen before it happened.
The origins of "Greed" is briefly diverted to the subject of Philip Green, once the billionaire owner of 'The Arcadia Group', owners of 'Top Shop', 'Miss Selfridge', 'Dorothy Perkins' and many more, who had been called before a 'Parliamentary Select Committee' about the collapse of one of it's biggest brands; 'The British High Street Fixture BHS'. There are similarities between Richard McCreadie and Philip Green, "Greed" should not be seen as a thinly veiled attack on one specific individual. In general, the subject of the film is inequality, the way in which free market fundamentalism has worked over the last 30 years. We’ve seen films before in the area, so it’s not as though we're thinking of this as a new area. What's slightly unusual, though, is that, despite the seriousness of the subject matter, the film uses humour to get his message across. Comedy is always a tricky term. It's entertaining, and there are funny bits in it. But when we're trying to persuade people to give us money for a film and we've to give them an idea of the film, the references we give them are films like "The Big Short", which has comedy actors in it but is not a comedy at all, and other films about business, you could say it’s like a jokey version of 'Citizen Kane', looking back on someone’s career, or 'The Social Network'. All our reference points are about how to deal with complex business issues through films that take a certain character as a central point. There's never a reference to comedy films we thought it's going to be like.
Prices are constantly driven down and the only way to change that's to make rules and regulations that make a fairer system. People are just trying to get by, trying to survive, and yet they’re seeing the profits from their labor being siphoned off into billionaires’ bank accounts, where it gets parked in offshore tax havens while they've their lavish parties. Even people in the fashion industry would like the system to change, but, for now, they all work within the system. And they've to, because that’s how the system works. There’s a definite point of view, and it’s provocative. Some people will love it, some people will hate it, a few people will be provoked into thinking about stuff that they ordinarily wouldn’t think about.
You believe in karma? Some people don’t reap what they sow. That’s the important thing about injustice in the world: some people behave terribly, and appallingly, and they get away with it because they’ve got good 'PR'. The thing is, success breeds success. It doesn’t matter how much of a bastard you are, if you’ve got lots of money you can make it seem like you’re not a bastard, even though you're. You can control how the argument is framed, and everything that goes to make you seem great and have great branding. 'PR' helps accentuate all the positive stuff you do, and turn the volume down on all the terrible stuff you do. There are a lot of people like that out there. People who are quite visible, but who manage their own image very well, because they've good 'PR'. They've a support network of people around them who can present them in exactly the way they want to be presented. It’s about the human cost of fashion, and we need to make more informed choices when we buy our next pair of shoes. You don’t want your shopping sprees to be moral decisions, and they shouldn’t have to be. You should be able to go shopping while knowing about the conditions that the people who made your garment are working under, how much they’re being paid, and how ethical the clothes are themselves. "Greed" isn’t just a film about the exploitation of 'Third World' labor, there are just as many victims of this ruthless brand of capitalism to be found working on the high streets of major cities, especially in 'The UK'.
There are all those zero-hours contracts to think about. But we feel that there are so many other issues, even beyond the whole 'Brexit' thing, that are obfuscating more important things that need to be talked about. There are lots of issues being discussed, quite rightly. But the biggest issue confronting society is the one that is least talked about, and that's the disparity between the rich and the poor. It’s the elephant in the room. When the super-rich get together and discuss how they can solve the ills of the world, they present themselves as wanting to help mankind. But in actual fact they're partly responsible for the very injustices that they're claiming to want to help resolve. But one of the things that all these people never want to talk about, the last taboo, is taxation. No one wants to talk about that. Everyone will throw a few sovereigns at a worthy cause, for the ‘optics’. But no one will really make a commitment. These people squirrel away vast, vast reserves in offshore tax havens, and then they throw a few coins at those they regard as being needy. Everyone thinks they’re really generous people, but it’s a smokescreen. Corporations do it. Big petrol chemical companies will build a couple of schools in some African country and then say, look how nice we're, look how kind we're, then maybe throw a few coins at some environmental thing. But it’s all bullshit.
People have to understand more fully the nature of the economic system they’re in can only be a good thing. Our governments in the west have become increasingly poor at making corporate power act in society’s interests, and we've been sold a line by too many governments that regulating them is impossible, that corporate power is greater than governmental power. And that’s horseshit. You only have to look at the credit crunch. The corporate power was totally enfeebled by an economic accident, and it took governmental power to save them. Governments have a nature of power that corporations don’t, and if those governments are acting democratically, they should be able to control the corporations and make them behave socially responsibly. They've that power, but only if we, as citizens, are more vigilant in who we vote for and why. It’s not going to be a quick fix or an easy change, but the more people are informed about what corporations do, and that they’re not all about the charities that they give to or any of that bullshit, what they’re doing is avoiding tax and paying a pittance to people in slum conditions, then maybe the political messages that say, we would like to change that, will gain more traction. It’s a way of looking at a lot of things that have shaped the last 30 years in a way that's wrong.
Free-market capitalism and the whole ‘80s 'Wall Street' ethos of "Greed" is good. We’ve come to the stage, after 30 years of that kind of capitalism, where there are more and more people who would like to see a fairer world, a greener world. We throw away a huge amount of clothes because we can buy them again so cheaply. That era is coming to an end, and this film is definitely looking back at the end of an era. But is it the fall of the whole empire? About waste, and about whether the fashion industry is going to address these issues. The fashion industry does a lot for 'AIDS' charities and all the rest of it. But if you ask them how much they exploit people in the developing world, they’ll suddenly go all tongue-tied, because that’s their 'Achilles' heel. This film opens up a discussion about how we want to live our lives, and how much we need to consume. There have been certain successes in that area we all know plastic bags are bad now, and that plastic straws are bad. Well, let’s broaden out that discussion and talk about the voracious consumption in the clothing industry. We talk about waste, which is a good thing, environmentally, but we don’t talk about exploitation. And even if we do, it’s marginalized. Rich people are happy to talk about how green they're, but they’re not happy to talk about how much they pay their most poorly paid employees. We don’t have to accept conventional ways of thinking, perhaps we need to be more radical about how we address these things. The media always says, being radical. Oh no, that’s for lunatics. What we've to do is carry on as we're and just change things a tiny little bit, and then everything will be fine. No, that’s not good enough. You've to unleash the lions.