Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
From NPR: Live updates from the Republican National Convention, plus special coverage from 6-8 p.m. tonight.

Making Fun Of The Rich Is A British Comedy Tradition Honored In 'Greed'


Making fun of rich people is a time-honored tradition in Britain. From 18th-century comedies like "School For Scandal" to the upstairs, downstairs riffs of "Jeeves And Wooster," critic Bob Mondello says you can now add a new film to the list - a social satire that is simply titled "Greed."

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: There's a reason gazillionaire Sir Richard McCreadie is known as Greedy McCreadie.


STEVE COOGAN: (As Sir Richard McCreadie) Look at that. You can't buy a view like that. Oh, wait - no. I have.

MONDELLO: A fashion world bottom feeder played by Steve Coogan, he's scammed his way to wealth - buying and asset-stripping his competitors, paying starvation wages to Bangladeshi workers and, as he tells a parliamentary committee, employing tax dodges.


COOGAN: (As Sir Richard McCreadie) I pay what I have to and no more 'cause I'm not stupid. If you want to chase people avoiding tax, why don't you go after the big boys? I mean, look at Apple. Look at Amazon, Starbucks. Talk to Bono. He's avoided hundreds of millions of tax by claiming that U2 are based in Holland. Doesn't stop him going around the world in your nan's sunglasses proclaiming about ending poverty or whatever.

MONDELLO: Or whatever. This guy has decided to throw himself an extravagant 60th birthday party on a Greek isle, complete with gladiators fighting lions - which would have been Rome not Greece, but whatever - also, employees dressed as slaves - appropriate to how he sees them - maybe Elton John singing by the pool.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) So what kind of budget are you thinking for the party?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Oh, whatever it takes.

COOGAN: (As Sir Richard McCreadie) A million pounds.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) What?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) So is that for the whole party or just for the music?

COOGAN: (As Sir Richard McCreadie) Well, what do we need?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Well, it depends who you like.

What about Shakira? What's - what's - what's her quote looking like?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Shakira, probably go up to about 3 for a package.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) About 3 million for a whole package.

COOGAN: (As Sir Richard McCreadie) What?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) How much is Tom Jones?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) He would be around sort of 350.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Three-fifty.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) He seems to be (unintelligible) Tom Jones.

COOGAN: (As Sir Richard McCreadie) That's it. That is a - that's a bargain. We'll have two Tom Jones.

MONDELLO: Complicating matters slightly is that McCreadie's brought a journalist along to record it all for posterity.


COOGAN: (As Sir Richard McCreadie) This is Nick. He's chronicling my life.

MONDELLO: Nick is not smooth.


DAVID MITCHELL: (As Nick) Hi. You're the fashion editor.

JESSICA FOSTEKEW: (As character) Yes. Did you expect me to look a bit more like a model? (Laughter).

MITCHELL: (As Nick) Of course not. Not that you - you look great.

MONDELLO: What Nick witnesses as he chronicles is party prep not going well - workers quitting, a lion who's not looking very ferocious, guests canceling after that investigation.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Angeline (ph) is now a maybe.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Ed Sheeran's a no.

MONDELLO: Also, some bad optics - an ex-wife sailing up on a $100 million yacht, their reality TV star daughter bringing along a film crew and their barely-out-of-puberty son seemingly inspired by the Greek landscape and a somewhat literal reading of "Oedipus." Oh - and there are Syrian refugees cluttering up the view.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As character) Poor things.

COOGAN: (As Sir Richard McCreadie) Well, they've come a long way. They won't mind going a bit further. Get rid of them.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #7: (As character) It's a public beach. In Greece, all beaches are public.

COOGAN: (As Sir Richard McCreadie) It's not me. It's my guests. Some are very superficial.

MONDELLO: As for those celebrities who are not showing up, the party planner has a solution.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) They're look-alikes.

COOGAN: (As Sir Richard McCreadie) Yep, Simon Cowell. He's good, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Yeah.

COOGAN: (As Sir Richard McCreadie) Looks like Rod Stewart's bitter older brother. Is that George Michael?

MONDELLO: It does look like George Michael.


COOGAN: (As Sir Richard McCreadie) George Michael's dead.

MONDELLO: Plenty of fodder here, both for comedy and for outrage. The film is inspired by the real life extravagances of folks like Tyco executive Dennis Kozlowski and Topshop bigwig Sir Philip Green. Happily for a writer-director Michael Winterbottom, there are sufficient copycat examples that he won't be sued for slander. His approach here is hardly subtle.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #8: (As character) You've been described as the unacceptable face of capitalism.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #9: (As character) He was a bully.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #10: (As character) He was a parasite.

COOGAN: (As Sir Richard McCreadie) I've done nothing wrong.

MONDELLO: Still, credit him with making serious points lightly in "Greed" about the exploitation of workers, about the excesses of the billionaire class, about, in short, the age in which we live.

I'm Bob Mondello.


CAROLINE ROSE: (Singing) I did it for the money. I did it for the money. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.