Directed by: Michael Winterbottom – Starring: Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Isla Fisher, Ollie Locke, Sophie Cookson, Shirley Henderson, Pearl Mackie, Asa Butterfield
Let’s just deal with the elephant in the room. Yes, tragic TV presenter, Caroline Flack, does indeed pop up in this playing herself, in what would turn out to be her last ever on-screen appearance. However, she is but one of a plethora of well-known faces who make cameos here, and it would be a shame to have the entire film overshadowed by her death, as it would be doing it a disservice.
Coogan plays Sir Richard McCreadie (known as McGreedy) a self-made high street fashion mogul, who enjoys all the trappings his wealth has brought him.
To mark his impending 60th birthday, he decides to throw a gladiator-themed party on the Greek island of Mykonos (because why not bring a Roman theme to Greece) that is exactly as tacky and tasteless as you would expect from the super rich.
As he descends on the island with his biographer, Nick (Mitchell), his ex-wife (Fisher), his reality TV star daughter, Lily (Cookson), his resentful son, Finn (Butterfield) and his much younger girlfriend, various hangers-on, and sycophants, he reflects on his rise from humble beginnings, and his often nefarious business practices (not that he sees anything wrong with them). And, with the stage set for his epic celebrations, and a lion called Clarence in place for the finale, what could possibly go wrong?
This is shot mockumentary-style, allowing us to witness all the developments in the party-planning process minute by minute.
McCreadie is obviously based on Sir Phillip Greene, the Topshop mogul; however, he is also representative of the festering sepsis that is the out-of-touch mega-wealthy. Clearly Winterbottom is trying to make a statement about the attitudes of these types – even throwing in a group of refugees that are ruining the aesthetic of McCreadie’s party, and must be dealt with rather than aided.
However, this is sometimes hit-and-miss in enforcing its message. But when it hits the mark it is incredibly powerful. Some of the best scenes come courtesy of McCreadie’s early days, when the obnoxious young man exploits overseas workers, to ensure he can make maximum bucks for minimum effort.
Coogan isn’t overly-stretched here, but does have some great moments as the vain, self-centered, narcissistic, and unempathetic retail giant. It is impossible to like him, and yet you find yourself wondering just how much lower he can sink.
And Fisher is a delight as the ex-wife, who colludes to hide his fortune in the tax-haven of Monaco. Not for her the sweat-shop mass-produced high street clothing that made her ex-husband’s fortune. She is designer label all the way.
Standout here is Shirley Henderson, who is aged up for most of the film to play McCreadie’s Irish mother, but does a brilliant job despite the restrictions of the make-up. Mitchell too is wonderful as biographer, Nick, and it is nice to see him stepping out of the Peep-Show shadows. And the cameos read like a who’s who (Stephen Fry, Pixie Lott, James Blunt, and Keith Richards, to name but a few) and spotting them is half the fun of this movie.
The scenes on Mykonos look amazing (to be fair it’s hard to make it look bad) and juxtapose nicely with the grimier scenes,set in the sweat-shops that forged McCreadie’s fortune. The glamour versus the grit really works as an on screen statement, and the mockmentary format means it never seems forced.
This could have pushed its message further, and, at times, it feels like Winterbottom has chickened out of following through on something he wanted to say. But overall, it is a total romp that manages to make you think about the vulgarity of some of the supremely wealthy classes, and their abuse of their workers, without shoving it down your throat. Other than the last few minutes, where it all gets a bit bonkers, it remains funny and engaging, and just the right side of cringeworthy.
Definitely worth a look, and not just for Caroline Flack’s last appearance, this is a rare movie that manages to deal with a serious topic, while retaining a sense of fun and the ridiculous.
In Cinemas February 21st! Trailer below: