A film which only goes to prove that satire is a difficult genre to bring off.


Shanina Shaik and Steve Coogan


Quite understandably both Steve Coogan and Michael Winterbottom have their admirers and when the star and the director have worked together in the past the results have often been rewarding. But with Greed the combination yields a film well-intentioned but surely destined to disappoint. Although one Sean Gray is credited for additional material, the main writer here is Winterbottom himself and the film's failure is the direct result of a screenplay that seeks to be comic and yet gets next to no laughs (at the screening I attended some jokes about pop stars demanding huge fees for private performances amused the audience, but little else did).


Greed is a film that invites comparison with last year's The Laundromat, another film that sought to tackle serious matters through the use of satirical comedy and came to grief. Here the subject is a ruthless British businessman, Sir Richard McCreadie, known as the King of the High Street and seen by many as a character inspired by Sir Philip Green of Topshop. Be that as it may, McCreadie is shown making a splash on his 60th birthday by holding a big media-conscious party on the Greek island of Mykonos, an event intended to counter bad publicity. Sir Richard has been brought before a select committee in the House of Commons and flashbacks confirm the extent to which he has manipulated business deals to profit his family at the expense of shareholders, indulged in tax evasion and relied on exploited workers in South Asian factories.


Ultimately the film is serious about such practices but, however valid the criticisms it conveys, what counts is whether or not the satirical approach entertains. It doesn't. Sir Richard, a one-note character, is obnoxious without being amusing and David Mitchell is given very few good lines to deliver and is thus poorly served as a writer engaged by Sir Richard to provide a ghosted memoir. Other players such as Asa Butterfield as Sir Richard's son get far too little to do and, despite the underlying truths, the approach is so far removed from any believable representation of reality that it feels quite incongruous when Sir Richard's assistant, Amanda (Dinita Gohil), reveals a back story concerning her mother that is totally serious and tragic. However, I would have to say that the film's climactic scene is even odder: arriving as it does just after Amanda's revelations, it plays as a half-way house between ineffective drama and very black comedy although the latter is a tone not apparent earlier in this satire.


Written statements at the close of the film confirm the importance of the facts that led to Winterbottom wanting to make it but, although he brings his technical abilities into play with split screens and pacy editing, Greed can only be regarded as a misguided concept. One of his regular players, Shirley Henderson in the role of Sir Richard's mother, emerges as well as anybody here, but no one can truly get this screenplay off the ground.




Cast: Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Asa Butterfield, Dinita Gohil, Sophie Cookson, Jamie Blackley, Shanina Shaik, Jonny Sweet, Sarah Solemani, Tim Key, Asim Chaudhry, Ollie Locke, Pearl Mackie, Kareem Alkabbani, Shirley Henderson, Isla Fisher, Richard Betts, Enzo Cilenti, Paul Clayton, Christophe de Choisy, Stephen Fry, Caroline Flack, Miles Jupp, Paul Ritter, Jack Shepherd, Paul Higgins, Pixie Lott, Norman Cook, Alexa Chung, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, Chris Martin, Ben Stiller.


Dir Michael Winterbottom, Pro Damian Jones and Melissa Parmenter, Screenplay Michael Winterbottom, with Sean Gray, Ph Giles Nuttgens, Pro Des Denis Schnegg, Ed Liam Hendrix Heath, Marc Richardson and Mags Arnold, Music Harry Escott, Costumes Anthony Unwin.


Sony Pictures International Productions/Film4/Revolution Films/DJ Films-Sony Pictures.
104 mins. USA/UK. 2019. Rel: 21 February 2020. Cert. 15.