|Year||Region||Certificate||Running Time||Screen Ratios||Screen Format||Sides||Layers|
|1999||2||15||97 minutes||1.85:1||Non-Anamorphic PAL||1||Single|
|English Dolby Digital 2.0||English (optional)||
|There's a superb film to be made about the collapse of Barings Bank in 1995 with debts of nearly a billion pounds caused by the unauthorised trading of 28-year-old Nick Leeson, but in an ideal world it would be adapted from John Gapper and Nicholas Denton's riveting All That Glitters (the definitive account to date, written by a couple of senior Financial Times journalists) and directed by someone of the calibre of Michael Mann in the style of The Insider, presenting fiendishly complex financial and legal manoeuvrings with masterly clarity and concision - and keeping the suspense constant even though just about everyone in the audience knows the ending well in advance.
Unfortunately, Rogue Trader isn't anything like The Insider, it being essentially a lightweight TV movie adaptation of Nick Leeson's own more than somewhat self-serving account of the saga. To be fair, as TV movies go, it's pretty watchable (the material is so strong that it could hardly be anything else!), but it's a little one-note and over-simplified for my taste, dramatising the bare bones of the story without ever really tackling the underlying issues.
It gets off to a good start as Leeson is sent out to oversee Barings' new Singapore subsidiary - I particularly liked the way he delivered an idiots' guide to futures and options to his junior staff as a handy way of bringing the audience up to speed as well. As a result, though those unfamiliar with the lingo might still find the talk of margin calls and straddles somewhat impenetrable, it's still pretty clear what's going on, if only thanks to the increasingly panicky tone of the voices delivering them.
But as the film progresses, the attempt to whitewash Leeson rather sticks in the craw. According to the film (and the book), he meant well - he only created the notorious Error Account 88888, in which he hid his losses, to prevent an inexperienced colleague from being fired. Unfortunately, as the Gapper/Denton version reveals in merciless detail, Leeson actually started exploiting the account weeks before this incident took place - and the film gives subsequent events are given a similar glossing-over, with the aim of presenting Leeson as a cheeky chappie who got a little out of his depth, but only because he was trying to protect his colleagues and make good their losses.
More damagingly, the focus on Leeson - who's not only in virtually every frame but is also constantly present on the soundtrack in voice-over - ignores some fascinating background material. We're given enough of the history of Barings to know that they funded the Louisiana Purchase - but we're not told that they nearly went bust in the late 19th century, and would have done if the Bank of England hadn't stepped in, a not entirely irrelevant detail under the circumstances. There's also no sense of a timescale - the events of the film lasted over a three-year period, but they might as well have been three weeks (and this is a pity, because the mere fact that Leeson survived three years despite mounting losses - and a rigorous six-week audit in 1994 - would have been more than worth mentioning).
And we're also given little sense of what makes the bank's management tick - they're presented as moronic suits, for the most part, and while this may not be entirely removed from the truth, it does tend to play down what I think is the real dramatic core of the story - the fact that Barings' management really didn't understand what Leeson was up to, but were so happy with the profits he was (apparently) making that they didn't ask too many awkward questions. After all, you don't run up nine-figure (nearly ten-figure!) debts unless there's something seriously wrong with the structure of the business, and this isn't explored at all (possibly for legal reasons?).
But as a piece of drama it's enjoyable enough on its own terms - Ewan McGregor (with an unrecognisable London accent) makes a surprisingly convincing Leeson, and Anna Friel is his devoted wife Lisa - though the film doesn't cover the events that plastered her all over the papers, when she worked tirelessly to clear his name (the film mentions that she went on to work as a Virgin airline hostess, without explaining that that was the most realistic way of being able to afford frequent trips between London and Singapore to visit Leeson in jail). In fact, Lisa's given little to do apart from stay at home and look vaguely troubled, and the film stops shortly after the bank's collapse, as though there was nothing more to say.
The DVD box says that it's 4:3, but in actual fact it turned out to be non-anamorphic 1.85:1. The print is mostly in good condition, but there are more blemishes than I'd expect from a late 1990s film. As for the transfer, it's a little soft and more than a little dark - the dark suits, and there are plenty of them, tend to be swallowed up in the background. But it's not the sort of film where the visuals really matter that much: director James Dearden is clearly going for a glossy, Wall Street impression - but is somewhat hampered by an obviously limited budget.
Aurally, there's not a lot to report - it's Dolby Digital 2.0, and while it's perfectly competent, it's disappointingly unadventurous: there's plenty of scope for elaborate surround effects as we're thrust into the heart of the Singapore trading floor, but these are left unexplored, probably a side-effect of its made-for-TV origins. There are 20 chapter stops.
As a bonus, both blind and deaf people are catered for - not only are there optional English subtitles (though they're not framed in a 16:9 friendly fashion), but there's also an alternate soundtrack that offers an audio description. The latter has balance problems (the description is a little too loud relative to the soundtrack), but it's a nice touch - though not a patch on the superbly professional effort on Disney's Tarzan, which really shows how these things should be done.
Apart from that, though, there's just the original trailer - which coupled with the no-frills transfer makes the RRP of £19.99 frankly ludicrous (especially as you can buy a copy of the far superior and infinitely more detailed All That Glitters for less than half that!). It's a depressingly unimaginative DVD given the potential - how about two commentary tracks (one from Leeson, one from one of his ex-bosses?), or one of the many factual documentaries that filled the TV schedules in 1995 (not least the Panorama interview with Leeson that led to Rogue Trader being made in the first place - interviewer David Frost is its executive producer), or even a chronological timeline of events? The latter would have cost virtually nothing and would have taken all of five minutes to research!