NON-FICTION: Caroline Criado Perez, ‘Invisible Women’ (Vintage)

Women are under-represented in all spheres of life; while there must be many who disagree with this, it’s a repeatedly demonstrable fact. But the value of Caroline Criado Perez’s important book is its demonstration of precisely why this is a problem. It’s not just representation for representation’s sake; Invisible Women shows how the gender data gap – which simply fails to take into account the needs of women – results in mass inequity affecting everything from GDP to death rates, urban planning to mathematical modelling. There are some serious flaws in the book, but in Criado Perez’s accessible prose, the data gap emerges clearly as one of the most significant problems facing the modern world.

Cover of Invisible Women featuring a series of green men imposed over red silhouettes of women on a red background.
The inside cover of Invisible Women reveals the red silhouettes hiding behind the green men.

It’s important to note from the start that this isn’t a book of new research (though Criado Perez does conduct some original conversations with academics and other public figures). It’s a work of journalism which surveys a huge range of existing literature. Criado Perez isn’t a scholar, and rarely offers any scrutiny of the work she surveys (indeed, in a particularly disappointing bit of practice, when she cites web articles (one of her most frequent sources, themselves often reports on reports, so third-hand), her notes normally don’t even acknowledge the author of the article). But this isn’t meant to be a work of scholarship; instead, it’s a fast-paced overview, designed to impress the reader with the sheer scale of the issues caused by the gender data gap.

And in this, it absolutely succeeds. The scope of the book is impressive: from war to town planning, social care to parental leave, cookery to sanitation, politics to academia and so on, it’s hard to pick an area of life that Criado Perez doesn’t cover. At its best, the book demonstrates clearly the problems that at first may seem innocuous but which turn out to have a profoundly uneven impact on people. Particularly powerful examples include decisions to prioritise cleaning roads rather than pavements – disproportionately affecting women who make up a larger proportion of pedestrians; seat-belt design that doesn’t take breasts into account – leading to higher instances of women dying in traffic accidents owing to wearing their belts incorrectly; and a failure to build ventilation into kitchens in developing countries – leading to women, who spend disproportionate amounts of time cooking, developing higher rates of cancer. The issues seem obvious when Criado Perez points them up, and her extensive documentation brings the receipts.

Criado Perez’s call throughout is for representation, as – quite sensibly – women are more likely to anticipate women’s needs. The book is shot through with hope, as she demonstrates how different approaches to city design that allow for integrated living, or simple provision of sanitary supplies, massively increase quality of life and productivity (capitalism is assumed as a default throughout the book, though there are occasional implications that different ways of running the world full stop might also be worth looking into). And as well as pointing out the issues specific to women that are overlooked, Criado Perez also sets out a compelling case that traditionally male-focused concerns such as GDP are positively affected by valuing women’s unpaid labour and designing working situations around care and leave. In the afterword, she outlines the three areas – women’s bodies, violence against women, and women’s unpaid labour – that are overlooked in design and governance, having demonstrated how a proactive approach to all benefits everyone. And in this, it’s an enormously important book.

However, it’s also a book that represents peak white feminism. Commendably, Criado Perez draws her examples from all around the world, paying attention to issues of inequity in developing countries as well as the West; but, in moving dizzyingly between them, she conflates and universalises issues rather than attending to their local distinctions. This isn’t the point of the book – fine-grained analysis is left to the scholars – but in doing so elides the local contexts of racism, ableism and class that are crucial to understanding these issues more thoroughly. And the fact that trans issues are never mentioned in a book about gender inequity seems like a conscious elision. There are occasional gestures to an intersectional feminism, but her brief discussions of e.g. the experience of African American women in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are side notes to the experience of All Women that, at its worst, risk underplaying crucially the differences that affect women differently.

And in pursuing this, Criado Perez inevitably reinforces stereotypes of what a woman is. Her book is understandably dependent on averages – ideas about the ‘average woman’ or ‘average man’ – without ever questioning the problems of this, or the fact that many of the problems facing women are precisely because women are assumed to be the same shape and size. When she discusses car deaths affecting women because they can’t reach the pedals, she’s talking about an issue that affects all people shorter than a male norm – which disproportionately means women, sure, but the continual dependence of the book on the ‘average’ woman is inattentive to the huge kinds of disparity of body and life experience even among cis white women, let alone women who are non-white, disabled, trans etc. This is a genre problem, as Criado Perez is working with big data, but big data risks perpetuating the same assumptions about women who deviate from female norms not being ‘real’ women that led, for instance, to the ongoing violence against Castor Semenya. In this, it’s a real shame that Criado Perez has not engaged at all with disability studies, which has already done a huge amount of modelling about the problems of a world that is designed with certain kinds of body in mind; without in any way wanting to undermine the core thesis of Criado Perez’s book that society discriminates against (broadly defined) women, Invisible Women risks making non-average women even more invisible.

But those criticisms aside, Criado Perez’s survey of the work is invaluable for bringing together a huge range of sources and studies that cumulatively identify the scale of the problems facing women in the world today, and offering solutions for their redress. While there needs to be much more nuanced work on all of these issues, she provides a wealth of ammunition and argues cogently and persuasively for the urgency of addressing these issues, especially given how quickly progress is derailed by disaster (indeed, the current Covid-19 crisis, with (so far) its lack of attention to how changed living circumstances might affect gendered needs differently, might be a pertinent example). It’s a valuable book that represents a great deal of work.

THEATRE/COMEDY: Mark Thomas, ‘Check Up: Our NHS @ 70’ (dir. Nick Kent)

Among the huge amount of excellent content being made available online during the worldwide lockdown to contain Covid-19, Mark Thomas’s one-man show ‘Check Up: Our NHS @ 70’ is surely one of the most pertinent. Based on his month-long residency at the NHS, where he shadowed everyone from registrars to GPs to dementia nurses to building managers, Thomas’s show is simultaneously a celebration of the importance of the NHS and its phenomenal achievement, and a searing indictment of its careless and malignant treatment by the politicians of recent decades.

A man in suit and trousers stands in front of a screen saying 'NHS'
One of the liveliest sermons you’ll ever see, proselyting on behalf of public health (Photo: Sid Scott)

Formally, Thomas’s show feels like a comedy gig – it’s one person on stage, holding forth for 75 minutes on a theme, and even making jokes (a particular riff on crocs is quite funny, Thomas declaring that wearing a pair is a public declaration that you’ve given up on everything). But it’s more sermon, the jokes acting as punctuation to a show that is closer to a TED-talk delivered with the zeal of an evangelist. It’s not an unflattering comparison – Thomas is an evangelist. At one point, meeting the criticisms of the right-wing press that the NHS is a money pit head-on, he practically screams ‘It IS a money-pit – AND WE’RE ALL IN THE PIT! LET IT RAIN! HALLELUJAH!’ Amen.

Thomas thinks we’re complacent about the NHS, and complacent about our own health. Twin faults he points out in his audience (not literally the audience at the Arcola at this recorded performance, though they stand for all of us) are the British exceptionalism in continuing to assert that the NHS is the best in the world, and the blase attitude to basic well-being. The first he punctures with a list of statistics asserting that the British NHS is distinctly average, even in the bottom third of success rates in many cases, compared to other national health services; a result, he says, of the lack of money being put into it. On the second, he has a great bit about how in twenty years we’re going to look back at re-runs of The Great British Bake-Off and scream at our futuristic tellies about how the hell they got away with this poison on prime-time.

But Thomas isn’t a street preacher, speaking from a place of ignorance; this show is him showing the receipts. In his month of shadowing, and his various interviews and research trips around it, he spoke to politicians, academics, theoreticians and financiers, as well as people working within the NHS. This being Thomas, it’s a bitingly political show, with Andrew Lansley as the architect of the NHS’s 2012 reforms – modeled on the privatisation of the gas and electricity industries – coming in for a particularly scathing treatment. As Thomas outlines and repeats the billions that have been structurally committed to the processes of privatisation, billions that would otherwise have been invested in services, there’s a fury at the cavalier attitude to the sector, which directly contrasts with the footage of Danny Boyle’s Olympics celebration of the NHS the same year. Working with the numbers and politics, Thomas paints a bleak picture of just what kinds of violence have been inflicted on the organisation.

Which isn’t to say it’s all gloom. Thomas puts himself front and centre, asking a GP to explain all the things he should be worried about in his own health, leading to lots of jokes about his own lifestyle. He does impressions of his interview subjects, acknowledging the variable quality of his accents, but getting in some great bits – including one interviewee, the health inequality expert Michael Marmot, with his delivery of the line ‘If we judge – and I do judge, by the way‘ as he outlines the external factors that lead to poor public health. In another fun sequence, he scores his description of a fat removal operation to a jazzy soundtrack that captures the brio and delight of a finely choreographed operation before screaming ‘bring on the dancing girls!’ And the gallows humour of his NHS contacts comes through as churning even Thomas’s stomach.

At its heart, though, this is a story of love. Thomas has deep affection for his interview subjects, even those he politically disagrees with, and some of the most moving moments come from him talking to patients, whether an elderly Irish lady with dementia who’s in a frisky mood, or a depressed obese man who just wants a normal relationship with his daughter. The stories of the little tricks played by carers on the dementia ward are ingenious and funny. But they also introduce the actual care that Thomas worries about getting lost. The NHS was founded to stand ‘in place of fear’, Thomas argues, but the NHS is only held together by faith – or, more prosaically, an unusual amount of goodwill generated by a sense of duty. The stage goes to black on his killer final line: ‘and that will never happen with private profit’. He’s right, but will we listen?

FILM: Long Shot (dir. Jonathan Levine)

‘I know some will say this is sexist, but she is hot’. The casual banter of the three anchors on a Fox-like news show – with two guys (Kurt Braunohler and Paul Scheer) offering sexist compliments about the secretary of state, while their female colleague (Claudia O’Doherty) giggles and pretends to be exasperated, is a pitch-perfect summary of the issues with which Long Shot grapples, and the style with which it addresses them. Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) holds one of the most important offices in the land and, with the support of dim outgoing President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) has designs on the White House herself. But this is a country and media that insists on seeing her as a woman first, and a politician second.

A man and a woman in formalwear dance like teenagers.
There’s a lovely moment when Charlotte, having been beaten to the role of Class President by someone running on a platform of ‘two proms’, finally gets to share a prom dance with Fred.

Theron is brilliant as the youngest-ever Secretary of State. Charlotte lives an extraordinary routine – sleeping barely an hour a night, power-napping while standing with her eyes open (leading to one hilarious interruption), taking interviews while doing her morning workout, and having no time for anything else. She’s excellent at her job and high in the approval ratings, but she has also become part of a complex political machine that leaves her struggling at times to connect with her core values. Her life is a parade of numbers and vectors, reeled off to her by assistants Maggie (June Diane Raphael) and Tom (Ravi Patel); even her attempts at dating – the very nice, very bland Canadian Prime Minister (Alexander Skarsgård) – are as much for the cameras as anything else.

So when Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) barrels back into her life, there’s a chance to connect. Fred is an uncompromising political journalist who has just been sacked after his paper was taken over by media mogul Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis). Wearing multi-coloured windbreaker and an unkempt beard, carrying around recreational drugs and incapable of any form of diplomacy and tact, Fred is a wild card. But after reconnecting with Charlotte – who used to babysit him as a teenager – the two begin working together, Charlotte bringing him onto her team ostensibly to inject some humour and personality into her speeches, but unconsciously to rediscover something about her core values.

On the one hand, this is a classic adult romantic comedy. It sets up all of the obstacles you’d expect – an initial clash of values as the polished career woman and the maverick slacker rub up together and end up shagging; the difficult choice between love and career; even the mad dash across town for a public reunion (even if the last is delightfully subverted when everyone gets into cars going in different directions and no-one can find one another). And at the film’s most unpleasant, there’s a male-centered infatuation with anal sex, cum on faces, and similarly cheap attempts at gross-out comedy that is far less funny than the film thinks it is. While Theron and Rogen are brilliant in their performances, the film is very desperate to show that it’s hip to the point at times of losing sympathy – as when Charlotte decides to try molly just before being called in to handle a serious military incident.

But the film is actually quite magnificent in what it achieves within the conventions of the rom-com. Firstly, it’s just delightfully funny. The supporting cast are hilarious, especially O’Shea Jackson, Jr. as Fred’s best friend Lance. A cod-philosopher and successful entrepreneur with an amazing way with words, who also turns out to be a Christian republican, Lance is an excellent best friend, and nicely complements Charlotte’s support by her aides, who hate one another yet are shagging in secret. The dialogue crackles throughout; Fred and Charlotte falling in love hinges on warm and irreverent shared storytelling as they reconnect and discover their values and their needs and desires, and the sincerity with which Theron and Rogen forge the connection is compelling at all times, especially when contrasted with the hollowness of the Washington machine.

It’s also a remarkably even-handed political film. The film critiques the hypocrisy of a political system that is corrupted by special interests and powerful supporters. It critiques the compromises made by politicians who are more concerned with being heard to say the right thing than necessarily managing to actually do the right thing. And it also critiques a strident leftie position that refuses to seek compromise and just blithely dismisses republicans as bad people. In this, it’s a surprisingly humane film – it sees all humans as flawed and stuck in their ways, and offers a view of how two people can come from such different positions and strategies on how to make the world better, and learn from one another not the simple lessons of what needs to be done, but how to do it.

And it’s also an immensely insightful film about the structural biases that continue to keep women out of the White House. Charlotte is impossibly capable, someone who has given her life to her job and is prepared to sacrifice much more, while President Chambers barely understands the words he is being asked to read. And the scrutiny of Charlotte’s every gesture, every smile, every word, every interaction is loaded at all times with assumptions and prejudices about the capability of women. The choice to set up Fred as the embarrassing other half allows the film to explore the double standards of gender and the ways in which the American media constructs narratives; while Theron is hilarious, the moment where she lies on the floor after the president scuppers her deal and says ‘I don’t want to do this job anymore’ is heartbreaking. Yet while the film’s optimism in the American people to rally behind the supporter of the underdog and come together in support of a female president is perhaps a little simple, this still manages to be a very funny, and incisively plausible, satire of its world.

NON-FICTION: The Five by Hallie Rubenhold (Black Swan)

Mr Edward Fairfield is a piece of work. The man who, in the wake of four women being killed in the Whitechapel Murders of 1888, wrote to The Times commending the killer – the person or people who would come to be known as ‘Jack the Ripper’ – for taking action to rid the world of undesirables, was clearly a fuckwit. But in many ways, as Hallie Rubenhold points out, he’s entirely representative of what would become a default position in excusing male criminals and justifying vicious crime. The women deserved it. Rubenhold’s important book throws a massive spanner in the works of Ripperology by inverting the narrative, telling the story of the five women whose stories have always been in the shadow of the semi-mythical figure who links them.

Book cover of Hallie Rubenhold's The Five, made up to look like a Victorian newspaper.
The cover captures the impression of the newspapers that sensationalised the Ripper and demonised the women in the first place.

Rubenhold’s history is a labour of love and diligent research as she attempts to reconstruct the lives of the five women – Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly – killed by the Ripper. It’s no small feat, given that what binds the women apart from the dates and location of their deaths is their marginality within society. While some (most notably Annie) had periods of their lives where they were decidedly middle-class, all found themselves (especially towards the end of their lives) in states of poverty, homelessness, and/or crime, with many spending extensive time in the workhouses. As such, the records of their lives are patchy at best, often made up from criminal records and unreliable second-hand reports. And of course, the narratives around the sensationalised Ripper hearings themselves created no small amount of conflicting testimony.

Central to Rubenhold’s book is the most important corrective to the established narrative – the women were not all prostitutes; or, at least, there is no evidence that they all were. This was a story that emerged early in the scandals and made for good headlines – and, as Rubenhold points out, has been convenient to an entire industry that has grown up around the salacious incidents ever since. But while Elizabeth certainly spent parts of her life soliciting, and Mary Jane was universally understood to be a ‘gay girl’ who worked at several different levels of the sex trade, the other women may have never solicited at all. Part of the problem is that Victorian society treated all vagrant or homeless women as potentially prostitutes, ignoring the individual circumstances of each victim of society in favour of a pre-agreed set of assumptions. And these assumptions in turn affected the ways women were treated, leading to vicious cycles impossible to escape.

Rubenhold’s project is thus an ethically informed one. She isn’t so much trying to prove that the women were not prostitutes (there is no shaming here of prostitution) as trying not to accept the story that a prejudiced society has forced upon the women. What emerges instead is a series of fascinatingly different stories of working-class women’s lives. These range enormously. Elizabeth was Swedish, for example, and her story takes in the difficulties faced by servant-class Swedish women and the kinds of public shaming meted out on those marked down as prostitutes. Annie, meanwhile, is the subject of an extraordinary rise to high status, marrying a man who became coachman to a great house, and even living on the estate of a nobleman who hosted the royal party, before her downfall. Catherine lived as a pedlar for some time, traipsing up and down the country and becoming famous on the back of a ballad written for her hanged cousin; while Polly was a beneficiary of the famous Peabody housing, designed to help women get on in the world but heartless in the face of women rejected by their husbands.

If there is a little bit of judgementalism in the book, it’s in relation to alcohol. All of the women were either avowed or probable alcoholics, and while Rubenhold paints a sympathetic picture of the circumstances that drove women to drink, the language occasionally seems to take on some of the shaming quality that the women themselves no doubt experienced. The inevitability of drink is mirrored by the inevitability of the climax of each story. It’s a depressing read a times – wherever the women go and however high they rise, the spectre of Whitechapel and a homeless or precarious existence awaits them, and each story gets more and more desperate as the women lose their children, their partners, their homes, their money, their dignity, some surrendering entirely to the streets.

Rubenhold’s theory is that the Ripper was not attacking prostitutes, but rather preyed on those who were asleep (probably drunkenly so) in accessible places. Most of the victims seem to have been asleep when they were attacked, rather than picked up while soliciting. And so, while this is a history of five individual women, it’s also a broader social history of how Victorian London treated its poor, especially the women who were most vulnerable and had the most to lose. The ways in which society judged and punished women who had sex outside of marriage, who took on male protection, who in any way veered away from what society expected (even if that was in order to survive), are repeatedly heartbreaking, and Rubenhold points out that these attitudes are by no means dead. It’s an important and provocative book, and an empathetic, righteous approach to history.

FILM: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (dir. Céline Sciamma)

At the start of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a group of men row a young woman, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) through choppy waters to an isolated Brittany shore. They don’t stop to help when she loses an apparently vital bit of luggage in the waves, leaving her to shiver in the boat after she jumps in to rescue it herself; and when they put her down, they leave her to haul her heavy equipment all the long way inland. The boat turns and sails away, and men fuck off out of the film for the next two hours. Céline Sciamma’s film is all about subverting the traditional male gaze of cinema, and part of this is about getting men as far out of the picture as possible.

A woman in a green dress stands against a backdrop of rocks and waves.
Pause the film wherever you like, get a painting.

It’s the end of the eighteenth century, and Marianne has been summoned to Brittany to paint the portrait of another young woman, Héloise (Adèle Haenel), recently brought out of a nunnery after the suicide of her sister. Her sister was due to marry a nobleman in Milan, and now Héloise is expected to fill the role, allowing both her and her mother (Valeria Golino) to escape to a new life. Marianne’s portrait will seal the deal. But Héloise has already exhausted one (male) painter by refusing to sit for him, unwilling to be married off to someone she knows nothing about, and the Countess wants Marianne to paint her surreptitiously while posing as her companion.

The film’s first hour is a gently tense espionage drama, as spy Marianne befriends the enigmatic Héloise while secretly sketching in flashes of inspiration and painting long into the night behind a curtain in her room. Héloise first appears as a cloaked figure, walking ahead of Marianne as they go for a stroll, before her hood slips down to reveal her blonde hair, and then she suddenly runs towards the cliffs. ‘I’ve waited years to do that.’ ‘Die?’ asks Marianne, thinking of Héloise’s sister. ‘Run’. Héloise’s cloistered life means that she has never heard an orchestra or known love, and she slowly warms up to her companion, while Marianne meets secretly with the Countess to report on her progress.

It’s at the point when Marianne reveals the truth to Héloise and then defaces the portrait – which Héloise feels is cold and does not represent her – that the film turns. The angry Countess leaves, with instructions that the new portrait be finished by the time she returns, and the two women are left alone with the maid, the winsome Sophie (Luàna Bajrami). And with all the secrets out in the open, the film switches to a different mode, a deeply romantic and mythic love story as the three women bond. Sophie is pregnant, and the two other women support her as she approaches a local woman for an abortion (they meet the woman at an outdoor feast around a bonfire, where the women improvise a simply glorious a capella song); as they support the young maid through her trauma, Marianne and Héloise fall in love as they complete the portrait.

It’s impossible to describe how stunning this film is. The cinematography is ravishing, with the women framed against a Romantic backdrop of crashing waves and rugged rocks. Every shot is a portrait, and each portrait captures deep emotion; during the abortion itself, Sophie is capture from chest up lying on a bed as the old woman’s baby paws gently at her head, and Sophie slowly dissolves into tears as she holds the baby’s hand. The film is, of course, about images, and the lingering focus on the two portraits as Héloise’s image is slowly filled in nicely frames the narrative as Marianne comes to know her subject better. This is stressed in subtle dialogue that interrogates the nature of looking, as both Marianne and Héloise gaze upon one another and come to know one another deeply. The film’s sense of longing and love is reciprocal, deeply emotional, and entirely non-gratuitous; it’s hard to think of another film where love is so thrillingly captured.

The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice turns out to be significant, with Marianne interpreting the story as Orpheus making ‘the poet’s choice’ rather than the lover’s; choosing the memory of Eurydice rather than her. The film’s yearning thus emerges from the knowledge that the art the pair are creating is designed to sunder them, and Marianne begins seeing an image of Héloise in her wedding dress – Marianne turns back to see it like Orpheus, only for the ghostly figure to disappear. And as the two begin preparing to be parted, more sketches come into play as the two try to ensure they will be remembered by one another, while also wondering if the sketches will replace their memories. But it’s in the final shot that the film finally reaches its most important portrait, as Marianne sees Héloise across a concert hall listening to the first movement of Vivaldi’s ‘Concerto No. 2’, which Marianne had earlier introduced her to in butchered form on a harpsichord. The long shot zooms in slowly on Héloise and watches as she goes through the most extraordinary listening experience as she remembers, relives, mourns and celebrates her time with Marianne, all while Marianne (via the camera) watches. It’s a film which understands that the gaze is an act of love, not of control, and that the gaze memorialises and empathises rather than objectifies; and in this final shot, the film’s portraiture finally reaches its apotheosis.

TELEVISION: Cloak & Dagger, ‘Blue Note’ (dir. Ami Canaan Mann)

As Cloak & Dagger reaches its penultimate episode, director Ami Canaan Mann and writers Alexandra Kenyon and Peter Calloway slow down the pace, creating a hide-and-seek episode that takes the time for some extensive flashbacks, finally filling in the backstory of season villain Andre (Brooklyn McLinn). It’s an episode with unusual confidence that shows how far this uneven series has come, and sets up an ambiguous finale.

Image result for cloak and dagger andre trumpet
Down in the Treme!

With the voodoo material having been on the back-burner for a little while, ‘Blue Note’ is a welcome episode that remembers where Cloak & Dagger is set, leaning into the New Orleans music scene. It turns out that Andre is a jazz trumpeter who, ninety-six months ago, had ambitions of playing a ‘blue note’, hitting a moment on stage when his playing would become truly transcendent. There’s a glorious conversation between him and a bandmate which sets out, in hyperbolic terms, the high stakes: ‘The audience aren’t ready for it!’ But when he goes for the note he collapses, beginning to have the migraines that we know will dog him for the next eight years.

Andre’s story is eked out in flashbacks here as he’s not present in the present-day timeline of the episode, which sees Ty (Aubrey Joseph) and Tandy (Olivia Holt) trying to track down the elusive villain. For Tandy, this involves teaming up with Mayhem (Emma Lahana) and finding the comatose Lia (Dilshad Vadsaria), who has had all hope sucked out of her, to the point that when Tandy uses her power to enter her head, all there is is darkness and static. Tandy feels relatively sidelined in the episode, forced to then wait around for Ty so that they can go deeper into Lia’s mind. But there’s some strong material as Mayhem and Tandy clash over whether Lia should be killed once her usefulness is over, prompting Tandy to make an important decision about whether or not she can be a killer – she can’t.

Ty, meanwhile, gets much more to do as he stalks the gangs who have been hunting him, and traumatises them into helping. In a rare but very welcome MCU cross-over, Ty and Solomon (Joshua J. Williams) discuss Luke Cage and his heroics, the two young black men taking inspiration from someone who looks like them and tries to do good in the world. Solomon – who is illiterate and torn about his role in crime – has become an unlikely ally for Ty, and helps Ty set up his ambush, in which he uses his teleporting powers to fright the gang leaders into agreeing to stop selling drugs to those who use them to control others. Ty’s speech feels refreshingly measured – he knows he can’t stop everyone taking drugs, but he can make a significant disruption to the supply line and make people accountable for their involvement in abuse.

It’s when Ty and Tandy go together deep into Lia’s head that they finally learn about Andre’s plan to make himself a god, as a vestigial representation of him explains how he will do anything to escape his pain. The flashbacks show Andre try to kill himself on the night of the oil rig explosion, and then how he starts to discover his ability to drain women’s hope to ease his headaches. The montage of this welcoming ally greeting the survivors of abuse – and beginning to steal their hope from them – is depressing and effective, and it’s quite clear that Andre has gone far beyond any hope of redemption.

And so, to the wonderfully presented and very creepy finale. Ty and Tandy finally track Andre down to a lot where he is playing trumpet to a group of rapt men and women, including Tandy’s mother, who are unresponsive to Ty and Tandy’s attempts to wake them. Seeing that he’s about to hit the blue note, there’s a snap decision which is crucial, as Ty orders Tandy to throw a knife at him, which Ty then teleports into Andre’s chest. The quick choice for the two to work together to kill Andre feels heavy – this is no small decision, and Tandy in particular – having just discovered mercy with Lia – seems stunned at what she has done. But as Andre collapses, everyone apart from Ty and Tandy disappears, and all that is left is the sound of a trumpet in the air, wafting over the city. The consequences of Ty and Tandy’s actions will presumably be the business of the finale.

FILM: Greed (dir. Michael Winterbottom)

Some things are so transparently awful that there can seem no other response but laughter. The brazenness of the wealthy and entitled is one of them. That the twenty-six richest people in the world have as much money as the poorest three billion is a statistic so ludicrous that it’s a very bad joke. And yet somehow, the super-wealthy seem not just okay with this, but actively pursue and consolidate their protected status while spinning myths to justify themselves. ‘I’m just playing by the rules’ says one character in Greed, from the deck of her self-designed luxury yacht in Monaco.

A man in a toga with stupidly white teeth, surrounded by other people in togas.
The TEETH!

Greed is a tonally bizarre film, oscillating between very funny comedy, black satire, and earnest political messaging. It centres around Sir Richard McCreadle (Steve Coogan), an entrepreneur who is a composite of Richard Branson, Alan Sugar, Donald Trump and any number of supposed ‘self-made men’. ‘Greedy McCready’ – a nickname he gave to himself at school – is driven by money above all else, but has recently been publicly embarrassed in front of a select committee that dug into his multiple failed companies, his reliance on sweatshop labour, and his personal ethics. Stung (and also custard pied by an activist), he decides to throw the party of a lifetime for his 60th, to show the world that he’s still on top.

This is the comedy plot, and it’s genuinely funny. Richard is influenced by Gladiator, a film he repeatedly quotes from in his own mythologising as a little guy taking on the world, and so the party will require everyone to wear togas (including the staff dressed as slaves) and to attend a gladiatorial contest with a live lion. Pixie Lott, Fatboy Slim, Coldplay and Elton John are scheduled to perform; Stephen Fry and Keith Richards are on the guestlist; and Richard’s extended family including ex-wife Samantha (Isla Fisher), model girlfriend Naomi (Shanina Shaik) and kids Lily (Sophie Cookson) and Finn (Asa Butterfield). Winterbottom has great fun satirising the mega-rich as Samantha and Richard mock one another’s most recent cosmetic embellishments and Lily, in some of the best scenes, stars in a reality show about rich beautiful young things (alongside Fabian, played by Made in Chelsea actor Ollie Locke), and finds herself unable to distinguish between herself and her ‘character’.

The deep supporting cast is full of riches who start eking out the tensions around the family. In old lady make-up, Shirley Henderson is magnificent as Richard’s bitter Irish mother, and in flashbacks we see her taking the spoiled Richard out of private school while boasting to the headteacher that he’ll never have anything like her money. Finn is creepy as hell, going on continually about Oedipus and then getting letchy over Naomi (who is his own age). Asim Chaudhry steals the show as the lion tamer trying to look after his star charge, while Sam (Tim Key) tries to persuade a Greek foreman of the urgency of getting the fake amphitheatre put up, descending into an increasingly complex set of profanities. The flimsiness of the mini-Colosseum is, of course, an on-the-nose metaphor for the facade of Richard’s riches, which all began with him gambling over magic tricks and sleight of hand at school.

As the film settles in, however, the darker edges start to appear. The film is framed by David Mitchell as biographer Nick, who interviews Richard’s friends and family about how he got to where he is. In flashbacks, we see the young Richard bullying his way around the retail scene of London in the 70s and 80s. There’s some fantastic writing as he throws underlings under buses and demands uncouth choices (a particular section on fuchsia is a masterclass – ‘I want in your face! It’s the colour of a twat! It invites you in!’), but Richard is also an embodiment of all the worst practices of free market trading. A Big Short-style explanation from a financier shows how he disguised his practices of asset-stripping and ran company after company into the ground, and then Nick goes to Sri Lanka to film some workers wishing Richard a happy birthday, only to be introduced to the living conditions and wages of the people on whom Richard’s business depends (and who Richard was responsible for driving down the pay of). Nick is an odd, blundering character, and the film leaves his own ethics somewhat murky, as he goes on to make big bucks from his ‘official’ biography while only gesturing towards the problems with Richard’s empire.

And so the film’s moral compass passes over to Amanda (Dinita Gohil), assistant party planner and daughter of one of Richard’s former workers in Sri Lanka. She and Nick bond when she is upset by being forced to dress as a slave for Richard’s party, and she also intervenes to support a group of Syrian refugees camping out on the public beach next to Richard’s villa (the responses to the dignified refugees throughout are revealing – Lily builds them into her reality show, other flunkies scream at them, and Richard gambles with them, using his sleight-of-hand to get them to put on togas and help finish the amphitheatre for minimum wage). It’s Amanda who is given some of the most on-the-nose dialogue about the awfulness of Richard’s life, and so it’s she who presses the button when Richard is taunting the lion after the part, letting out the lion (who has recently had its meat spiked with cocaine by Finn), leading to the symbolic and literal eating of the rich.

Between the many celebrity cameos (including Caroline Flack, shockingly the first person seen on screen, following a quick tribute caption presumably rushed to cinemas just before general release), the silly satire and the conspicuous consumption, it’s a very funny film. But ultimately the film’s purpose is deathly serious. A long closing captions sequence, set to ‘Money, Money, Money’, outlines the issues of wealth disparity, refugees, sweatshop labour and misogyny that the film tries to deal with in one package – it’s all connected. And as Amanda herself goes to work in an upstairs garment-making factory, and Finn takes over the company with ambitions to make it even bigger, it’s a reminder that – as well-trodden as these issues are – they aren’t getting better anytime soon.