Donald Sutherland is the eponymous John Paul Getty senior in BBC’s big-budget drama. My knowledge of Getty was negligible. I knew he was one of the richest men in the world and I knew he had a pay phone in his house, so unpaying guests wouldn’t chisel him and make long-distance phone calls at his expense. Yep, tick that one off; it happens in this drama, which counterfeits itself by using the clichéd tag, inspired by actual events.
The story is quite simple John Paul Getty’s grandson is kidnapped and he failed to pay the ransom.
A lot of fun can be had from that simple premise as a jumping off point for writer Simon Beaufoy and director Danny Boyle. Only two things really matter. Money and sex.
Here we begin with images of the grandson John Paul Getty junior-junior or John Paul Getty III (Harris Dickinson) running through a field and cornflower and cut to a Gatsbyesque party in which John Paul’s eldest son, and we’re following the feudal process of primogeniture, commits suicide. Long live the king. The heir to the throne is dead, but who is next in line?
We’re back to with John Paul Getty senior at home in his Tudor stately pile in the Surrey countryside with his harem at dinner and in attendance, his fool, the only male at the table. King Lear and ‘nothing will come of nothing’ is quoted. The King cannot keep an erection, but more worrying is his son, John Paul Getty junior (Michael Esper) is next in line for the fortune. But junior has had a bit of problem with drugs and his dad doesn’t trust him with the Getty Trust. He bemoans the fact his sons aren’t more like the Kennedy’s who, with a bit of help from their bootlegging dad, conquered America. His sons are limp dicks in comparison.
Then John Paul Getty III appears at the funeral. He’s a hippy, with the flared trousers, long hair and not a penny in his pocket. Granddad takes a shine to him. He’s the great white hope of the Getty’s with bare feet and he’s not been ostensibly corrupted by money, because he’s skint. This gives the filmmakers a chance to show how great fortunes are made, which involves oil and horizontal and vertical integration of the production process. The most important point is, Getty senior points out to his grandson, the Trust runs at a loss, so they don’t have to pay up to 70% corporation tax.
Getty III just wants a few thousand dollars to pay back the drug dealers he owes.
Money, sex and tax avoidance gives nineteen seventy-three a contemporary feel. Not really my kinda thing, trust me, so I was told to say.