In 2005, Patrick Malahide appeared in the BBC film Friends & Crocodiles. The film is about the chaotic, dysfunctional, but also loving business relationship/friendship of Lizzie Thomas (Jodhi May) and Paul Reynolds (Damian Lewis). Set against the backdrop of the Thatcher years, they go from the last vestiges of the bohemian hippie days to the yuppie-fied ’80s and eventually through the ’90s ending in the popularization of the internet and the infamous dot-com and telecoms crashes.
Anders: Super Capitalist
Patrick Malahide plays Anders, Lizzie’s boss during the early internet boom years. He looks every part the aggressive capitalist. He is impeccably styled with bright, vibrant clothing. He absolutely looks a holdover from the yuppie years, and he is thoroughly excited about the growth in telecoms and web companies. He makes the epic mistake of placing all of AET’s (the company he runs and which Lizzie works for) eggs in the internet basket which proves to be a fatal mistake.
We first see Anders as a guest at Lizzie’s wedding. Paul and a few of his old bohemian buddies crash the event, much to Lizzie’s dismay and embarrassment. Paul is introduced to Anders and immediately offends him by comparing him (well, AET) to a “great hippo.” Anders was probably thinking “I’m not fat.” 😀
It is an important scene because of its foreshadowing. Paul clarifies, “a great hippo. Big, heavy company, awkward, loads of divisions waddling slowly, but it’s a great thing to be a hippo, very difficult to destroy.” I can’t help but notice Paul is channeling Mr. Jingle there with his manner of speech. 😉 And, it turns out that Anders is surprisingly efficient at destroying hippos.
Lizzie Joins the Telecom Team
Sometime after the wedding/honeymoon, Lizzie is called in to talk with Anders. She now sports a chic, short businesswoman haircut. Anders invites her to join his team which is developing plans for considerable changes. He warns her that everything they discuss must be kept in the strictest confidence. Anders suggests Lizzie “take the rest of the week off while some of the people less fortunate than yourself are leaving.” That is a big hint of what is to come for all of AET’s many employees who number in the tens of thousands.
After Lizzie’s mini-break (during which she made a brief visit to Paul, discussing their tumultuous friendship/past), she returns to AET. Anders and the gang are waiting for her. He leads them through the vacuum factory, casually greeting all the workers they will soon be making redundant. Anders’ flippant callousness towards them is very evident.
I like the way he forcefully storms through the factory. Patrick Malahide really conveys the excitement that Anders is feeling as he begins to embark on AET’s new strategy.
They approach several lines of vacuums, and Anders sends some workers away. “I need a moment alone with my team. Thank you.” He leans theatrically against the vacs. “I have to say this now, because it’s all the more powerful, while we are in amongst it. This is the past, everybody. This is over. We will be ridding ourselves of all these factories. We make everything from these vacuum cleaners to lamp posts, from soap
to helicopters. It’s ridiculous. It will all be shed. It’s been due for years and now,at last, we can do it.”
Seriously, he thinks making all those things is ridiculous.
Anders’ Shares His Plan
When they are back in the office, Anders lays out the real plan. They will sell all of their factories which make extremely useful and necessary physical products like vacuum cleaners while buying every internet and telecom company they can get their hands on.
“We have a huge cash cow and now we are going to milk it. The share price will be £16, £17 within a year. There will be the most dramatic growth in the company’s history, – perhaps, in any company’s history.” Lizzie isn’t completely swayed over wonders if they shouldn’t spread the risk. Anders is unfazed, “Telecom is an energy force unlike any other. It cannot slow.”
There is such intensity in his eyes and he is determined and fixated on obtaining those acquisitions. He has such faith in the future and continued growth of telecom.
Rejection of All Things Past
As testament to Anders’ love of the future and modernity he is in the midst of having the offices renovated. All of the old fixtures are going in favor of new ones, the key ones being the lights. He HATES those old, antique lights. Of course, they are stunning and probably just need some rewiring, but he wants them gone, gone, gone. Methinks that serves as a wee bit of symbolism. 😉
Eventually, he gets his wish, and Lizzie finds him chucking the old light fixtures out over the railings. He looks incredibly fit and fetching in his red suspenders and shirt sleeves at least. However, what he is doing is an absolute sacrilege! Don’t do that Anders. Later on you’ll wish you’d sold those lights to the highest bidder!
“Why does this give me such pleasure, Lizzie? Because we were being so slow. So very slow to take action, to get this company to join the real world.” His boyish enthusiasm is very, very cute, but so misguided.
The Bubble Bursts
Finally, things start going horribly wrong. AET’s telecom/web holdings start going down in value. They have sold off their profitable factories and have cost tens of thousands workers their jobs. Shareholder prices will be badly affected, and the future is looking pretty bleak. Lizzie sees exactly what is happening as the consequences of putting their eggs in a digital basket are coming to light. Anders, however, remains bull headed and defiantly determined. “We all committed to this strategy. There’s no turning back, naturally. There’s no possibility for second thoughts. Remember, the results are not what they seem.”
However, the results are exactly as they seem. A shareholder meeting is called and the press and public are all there. The shares are now just 75 pence, far from the riches Anders promised. Shareholders’ and redundant workers’ fortunes and lives have been adversely affected, yet Anders remains calm and disaffected by the disaster he has brought on. He ineffectually tries to reassure everybody, but no one is buying it. “Once the full business cycle is played out, then we will be in a much stronger position than we ever were before.”
Then he exits the stage, and that is his final scene. He leaves poor Lizzie on her own with the pitchfork brigade as he, presumably, hops into his helicopter (now no longer made by AET) with his golden parachute. Way to go, Anders. You ruined a lot of lives, but at least you cut a dashing figure while doing it.
Wrap-Up and BBC Interview
As always, Mr. Malahide gives an excellent performance and proves he really understands what sort of person Anders is. In this BBC article, he discusses Anders’ motivations.
“It is fascinating to play someone so purblind to the consequences of what he is doing and so convinced of his own abilities.
“Common sense goes out of the window in favour of the fashionable theory that everything must be rationalised. But the net result is that he ends up with nothing and ruins the lives of thousands of small investors in the process.
“Anders had a perfectly decent factory making perfectly decent vacuum cleaners, but it wound up making nothing at all. I suppose there is an intellectual purity about making nothing – you have no overheads at all!”
Malahide continues: “Anders embodies the concept of clever people being stupid. He’s clearly no fool: he’s built up a huge conglomerate. And yet he’s got to a certain age and doesn’t want to lose touch with the modern world. But in so doing, he wrecks thousands of lives.
“Of course, he’s not destroyed himself, he just glosses over the fact the company is a wreck and walks out of the shareholders’ meeting leaving everyone else destroyed.”
That perfectly describes Anders. Anders’ actively, but unknowingly, destroying a massive corporation is a pretty epic concept, but it makes sense when you understand what his character is about and how he genuinely thought the results were going to be very, very different. And, of course, the telecoms crash was a very real event which makes his character’s shortcomings all the more understandable.
There is also a bit from the BBC interview that I found very amusing:
“If I’m walking past a building site, I get ‘Oi, Chisholm’ from Minder fans. But if I go to a library, a female librarian will flutter her eyelashes at me because she remembers Middlemarch.”
The Middlemarch reference is great. Yeah, I’m sure Middlemarch is the only reason they are pleased to see such a nice looking patron. 😉