The Emperor’s New Clothes (2015) – It’s the rich wot has the pleasure and the poor wot gets the blame.

Robert Henderson

Narrator: Russell Brand

Director:   Michael Winterbottom

This documentary shamelessly mimics  Michael Moore  with a large dollop  of  “The smartest guys in the room” thrown in for good measure.  The end  product is a tepid imitation of Moore’s style   and a rather better pastiche of The smartest guys in the room.

Like a Moore documentary there is much in the film which is shocking: the greed and irresponsibility of the bankers:  the overt or tacit  collusion of  politicians which allowed  bankers to be effectively unregulated  in the run up to the 2008 crash; the failure to punish  with the criminal law any of those who were responsible for the banking crash; the ability of the likes of  Fred Goodwin  (the erstwhile CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland)   to walk away with a pension worth hundreds of thousands a year after wrecking  through his megalomania for expansion  one of the largest banks in the world. More generally the film also makes much of the  growing inequality in Britain.

Sounds intriguing? But the problem is Brand, unlike Moore, never manages to get to quiz any of those responsible or even to  embarrass them  by getting close enough to shout questions at them.   This is in large part simply a consequence of Brand /Winterbottom choosing a subject – bankers’ recklessness –  where getting to speak  to the culprits was a  obvious non-starter.  But  that makes a large part of the  film’s  approach  an anticipatable and hence avoidable  mistake.

A fair bit of the film features Brand arriving at the head of office of, say,  a high street bank, daringly entering the  public foyer  and then hitting a brick wall of indifference as he is left to grill receptionists and security guards on the wickedness of their employers.   The result  is  underwhelming the first time he uses the ploy, but moves from underwhelming to  irritating as the  device is repeated several times.  The nadir of this  “beard them in their lairs” tactic  is  Brand’s  arrival at the home of  Lord Rothermere  (whose family own amongst other publications the  Daily Mail) to tackle Rothermere about his non-dom status. After  Brand  had vaulted over a wall to show his rebel devil-may-care  tendencies, the scene ended with him conducting a meaningless conversation with a bemused housekeeper via an answerphone.  There was a vapidity about all these scenes which robbed them of their potentially humorous situational content based on the incongruity of what Brand was asking rank and file employees.  In the end it was simply Brand behaving boorishly.

All of this tedious , ineffective and self-regarding guff is wrapped within an ongoing theme of  Brand  “going back to his roots”   to  his childhood  town of in Grays in Essex.  (Brand is part of what Jerome K Jerome  called “Greater Cockneydom”).   He is  certainly much  friendlier  in his dealing with the  white workingclass than the vast majority of those on the Left these days who  tend to approach them  with all the delight of someone trying to avoid dog excrement on a pavement,  but there is a cloying quality to his relationship with those he meets as though he is playing in a rather ham fashion  the  part of a cockney sparrow returning  to its  long deserted nest.   He is also rather too keen to prove his street cred- there is an especially  cringeworthy episode where Brand  vaults a underground barrier and claims he has dodged the fare.  More damagingly perhaps, was that  hanging over his  words on the state of the have-nots and the misbehaviour of the haves hung  the fact that Brand is a rich man, a fact he tried  to address by trying to make a very feeble  joke indeed  about the fact.

Ironically Brand  displays a strong conservatism with a small ‘c’  when he laments the change from the Grays of his youth as a place where  the shops were run by local people and  “all the money spent in the town stayed in the town” to a modern Grays of boarded up shops and multinationals who suck the money and by implication the sense of community out of the place.

That is too black and white a view of then and now, but I can sympathise with Brand’s general nostalgia for the not so distant past. My memory tells me  that people were generally more content  forty years ago.  The trouble is that Brand completely fails to do is address the thing which has most dramatically changed places such as Grays namely, mass immigration, which of course is all part of the globalist ideology he purports to loathe.    That he should avoid the immigration issue is unsurprising because it is part of the credo of the modern Left that it is nothing but an unalloyed boon, but it does undermine horribly the credibility of the film as  an honest representation of reality .

The most nauseating part of the film involved Brand using an audience of  primary school children (at his old school) to  get his message across  by feeding them with the most intrusive sort of leading questions along the lines of  “Bankers earn zillions of pounds a year while the person who cleans their boardroom takes home fifty quid a week: is that fair?”  The children were charming, but using children as ideological props is a cheap shot at best and abusive at worst.

The film is at its best  when Brand is working from a script with  crisp graphics and commentary  in the style of The Smartest Guys in the Room. The  cataloguing of  the excesses of the financial industry and the stubborn refusal of the authorities in Britain to bring criminal charges against any board member of  the institutions which were responsible,   even the banks  which required  bailing out by the taxpayer, was  angering. Comparing this escape  from punishment  by high ranking bankers (who invariably  left  loaded with huge amounts of money on their departure from the offending banks)   with the many, often quite severe,  custodial sentences handed out to the 2011 rioters for stealing items worth at most a few hundred pounds and often for much  less  showed a reality that lived up unhesitatingly to the old refrain  “It’s the rich wot has the pleasure and the poor wot gets the blame” .

There is also some strong stuff about the growing inequality in Britain and the thing which with frightening speed is creating a massive generational divided, namely, the grotesque cost of housing which has removed from most of this generation any chance of buying a property  and forcing people  increasingly into extremely expensive  private rented accommodation.   But here again, the immigration issue was left untouched.

The film missed  several important ricks.  One of the scandals about the way bankers have been able to walk away from the 2008 crash without any serious action being taken against them is  that there has been no attempt to apply  the provisions in the Companies  Act  relating to directors behaviour. These provisions  allow the removal of personal limited liability  from  directors  where they have behaved in a reckless fashion. Remove their limited liability and creditors, including the government on behalf of taxpayers,  could seek  every penny they hold.

Then there is the extraordinary fact that the shareholders of the bailed out banks  still hold shares worth something.  The banks  were irredeemably insolvent when the Labour government bailed them out. The shareholders should have lost everything.  This fact  went unexamined.

But the film’s greatest  failure is to spend far too  little time role that politicians played in the economic disaster through their lack of regulation and the aftermath of the 2008 crash.  For example,  there was nothing on the  Lloyds TSB’s  takeover of  the HBOS which ended up capsizing Lloyds.  This takeover was done at the behest of Gordon Brown  and turned Lloyds TSB from a solvent bank with a reputation for prudence and caution into a bank which had to be bailed out by the British taxpayer. The bank is now the subject of a civil action by disgruntled shareholders who claim they were misled by  Lloyds about the state of HBOS.

Much of what Brand dislikes  I also dislike. Like him I deplore  globalisation because it is destabilising at best and dissolves  a society at worst ; like him I think it a monumental scandal that neither the main actors in the financial crash nor the politicians who had left the financial services industry so poorly regulated  were ever brought to book; like him I am dismayed  at the growing inequality in Britain  and the particular  disaster  that is the ever worsening British housing shortage.  But the film offers no coherent or remotely practical  solution to the ills of the age. It is simply a rage against the machine and like all such rages ultimately leaves its audience dissatisfied after the initial adrenal surge of sympathetic anger.

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