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OPINION

The last days of Lehman: the director’s cut

One year after its collapse, Lehman Brothers has inspired its first film.

The last days of Lehman aired in the UK on BBC TV on September 9
The last days of Lehman aired in the UK on BBC TV on September 9

The last days of Lehman aired in the UK on BBC TV on September 9 and was a predictably solid, well-acted, but ultimately dreary account of nervous-looking men in suits sitting around tables and periodically clasping their heads in their hands. The Dick Fuld character dutifully puts a phone call on hold while he grabs the cuddly toy gorilla from his office sofa and punches it. Alone in the office late at night, he waves his arms frantically to bring the motion-sensitive lights back on, as if he is warding off assailing phantoms. He breaks off in mid conversation to quote from the Book of Revelation and, spookily, his secretary, Samantha, completes the quote for him. Later she stretches awake in the office on Lehman’s final morning in a rather fetching black vest.

It has some nice touches, such as Ken Lewis lecturing John Thain on his repulsion at modern art that looks like a human body turned inside out.

Is this a coded reference to CDOs?

Thain is played as a disconnected space cadet but he glances knowingly at the painting The Judas Kiss on Lewis’s wall when he sells Merrill to him. Maybe he’s kept something back from the Bank of America chief.

But the whole thing lacks punch. The Henry Paulson character blows it early, bringing the fractious Wall Street chief executives back to the negotiating table with a ludicrous speech. "It’s over for the west. Do you want your kids to grow up speaking Chinese?"

Euromoney hopes that when Hollywood does Lehman it will be a proper blockbuster. It needs a star actor with the heft of, say, John Travolta playing Dick Fuld, with Angelina Jolie as his secretary also doubling up as head of security and packing some top-notch weaponry, possibly firing bullets round corners at the pursuing press corps. ("They’re propagating!" she exclaims to Fuld in the BBC version.)

Paulson is the key character and this requires vision and imagination. Euromoney suggests casting Will Smith, possibly declaring on the Friday evening that there is no public money to bail out Lehman because he’s late for a hot date that goes comically wrong. Perhaps it could turn out that aliens have taken over Smith’s body. Failing this, maybe Dustin Hoffman could play the US Treasury secretary in a reprise of his Rain Man performance.

The bickering Wall Street chief executives need livening up too. Danny de Vito could play Lloyd Blankfein, although British bankers watching the BBC were hoping de Vito might appear playing Jeremy Isaacs. Perhaps Bruce Willis could do justice to the Goldman chief. The BBC did Thain well. Ewan McGregor might add a zen-like vibe, perhaps meditating in front of a very expensive looking waste bin in a rough-looking robe, possibly with a lightsaber close to hand.

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