How finance-themed TV and movies can teach us all about money as Christmas approaches

Christmas is almost here, so I’m doing something a little different in my last column of 2021. We all have our favorite holiday movies (Elf is a masterpiece, and I won’t hear the opposite). Once you’re done with those, why not settle in with a big TV show or a big financial movie? Bear with me.

Of course, I could have recommended my favorite financial books to buy as Christmas gifts (Own!, now shameless plug over). But I think film and television can be wonderfully accessible and empowering platforms for examining themes like capitalism, banking, investing, debt, financial crime, and how we use money, in particular. For the young.

It would be great if there were more financial stories on screen, especially told through a British and more diverse lens. Hope this changes in the future. In the meantime, watch, learn, raise your eyebrows, enjoy.

The first is Interior work (2011, ranked 12, Netflix). The gold standard of financial documentaries, Inside Job provides a sobering overview of the events leading up to the 2008 financial crash. It exposes all of the factors that contributed to the subprime mortgage catastrophe in the United States without resorting to l hysteria or exaggeration. It’s devastating, especially in tough times when so-called independent academics are asked why they approved questionable products from the financial industry.

Another documentary to discover is Instatraders (2021, BBC iPlayer). Journalist Dion Hesson immersed himself in the world of forex traders on Instagram for six months and discovered a host of cutting-edge practices that could lead young people to serious financial trouble. A reminder that social media has become a jungle for budding investors, with regulators desperately lagging behind.

then, we have The big court (2015, ranked 15, Amazon Prime and Apple TV). According to Michael Lewis’s book, it could have turned into a snoozefest, but it ends up being a hoot. While Adam McKay’s villainous style of filmmaking is an acquired taste, I think he does a great job telling the story of a small group of speculators who correctly predicted the 2008 financial crash.

While they may have made some dramatic gains in the process, it was not without being fully aware of what their good fortune meant to the rest of the world. Ryan Gosling’s character is sure to make you angry when he mentions the fact that only one minor player in the financial system has been brought to justice.

In the same vein, there is Industry (2020, ranked 18, BBC iPlayer). Not the type to watch with your grandma after Christmas dinner. But this steamy, hard-hitting series about graduates working in an investment bank in London is an addicting watch. It also has an uncomfortable air of truth, having been written by people with first-hand experience of the frenzied trading floor.

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It’s refreshing to see an honest portrayal of the investment elite closer to home, amidst many other movies and shows set on Wall Street. And while the characters are drawn extensively at times, it does raise questions as to whether we’ve learned any lessons since 2008, or if the harmful urban culture is building up problems again. I would like to make a passionate, so unorthodox case for Mary poppins (1964, rated U, Disney Plus).

It’s a movie for the whole family – I watched it about 78 times as a kid, which is no small feat considering it’s 139 minutes long. But there are also interesting financial messages for adults. To say it’s a good old school Disney movie with wicked tunes and charming Julie Andrews, it has some remarkably subversive ideas, daring to poke fun at the banking industry as the 1960s began. He basically postulates that the financial system is ridiculously fragile (little Michael accidentally causing a bank panic) and that status, money, and authority can never make you as happy as flying a kite.

I think Michael’s reluctance to donate his precious tuppence to Fidelity Fiduciary Bank makes him a millennial proto. I know a lot of young people who don’t want to hand over their precious money to an industry that can’t always explain the good it does.

But the last word should go to the skillful reboot that is Mary Poppins Returns (2018, rated U, Disney Plus). Here, the adult Michael discovers that he can save the family home thanks to the returns on investment generated by that little money deposited in the bank all those years ago. Maybe being money-conscious isn’t so bad after all?

Please contact me on Twitter (@ionayoungmoney) if you have any movies, shows or financial documentaries to recommend for the holiday break. In the meantime, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a New Year full of common sense!



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