Russell Brand makes no secret about whose side he’s on in his latest film, made in collaboration with director Michael Winterbottom. Taking up Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale of the same name, Brand invites an assembly of infants to judge on the fairness of a society riven with the most grotesque inequality. Scenes from this sequence are brilliantly juxtaposed with a host of great interviews with working mothers, New Era housing campaigners, UK Care and Your Choice Barnet care workers, a campaigner with cerebral palsy against cuts to disability benefits, and so on.
An interview with a window cleaner in the City of London brings out the fact that he would have to work for 300 years in order to make the same amount of money as the annual income of the bank’s chief executive. He makes the point that the wealthy live behind carefully constructed walls, making them immune to the cries of injustice around tax evasion, bankers’ corruption and casino-like behaviour in the financial system.
Brand employs stunts similar to US film maker and activist Michael Moore. He invades the lobbies of HSBC, HBOS and other major banks in attempts to interview their chief executives, all the time being stopped by those at the bottom of these gigantic hierarchies of financial power. At one point he juxtaposes the police’s use of a mobile advertising truck to round-up and imprison “looters” following the 2013 riots with himself being driven in a similar vehicle through the City, megaphone in hand. This time the truck is plastered with the faces of the top bankers who crashed the financial system and got away with it. Interviews with former City traders keen to spill the beans, and good lefty tax analysts and journalists, such as Paul Mason, bring a touch of serious analysis to the film. But these are interspersed with pranks, such as Brand climbing over the gates of Daily Mail owner Lord Rothermere’s London home to stick a “Pay Your Taxes” placard on a window sill.
It’s a dynamic format that holds the viewers’ attention throughout its 95 minutes. And all the time, Cameron and Osborne pop up to repeat the mantra, “we’re all in this together”. Brand has become a serious campaigner against capitalism. Socialists need to get behind him and provide the organisation needed to put real power behind his message.