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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Serious Money is a satirical treatment of the financial and social troubles of the 1980s. Set in London, its characters are all embroiled in corruption and scandal; their efforts to maximize their benefits in the quickly changing markets lead to Jake’s death and his sister’s failure to find his killer or resist the allure of wealth.

Greed in British Society

Caryl Churchill suggests that greed has permeated British society. Every character is motivated by greed in some way; while this is primarily desire for money, it also encompasses power and sex. Along with desiring money and power, Jake Todd wants to show his father that he can succeed on his own terms. After his greed leads to his death, Scilla, his sister, hopes to find his killer. What she learns about his financial dealings prompts her desire to partake of the spoils, changing her motivation from justice to greed. On the corporate level as well, the officers of the multinational firms engage in takeover bids out of greed for excessive profits, not to benefit their stockholders.

The Influence of Systemic Corruption

Only a few people temporarily escape the damaging influence of the systemic corruption. Frosby’s efforts to expose corruption lead him into despair and suicide, while Duckett’s failure to save Albion leads to his nervous breakdown. At the highest government levels, the pervasive rot effectively blocks any possibility of reform. Corman represents the corporate world’s unlimited ability to buy influence. Politicians such as Gleason worry more about their image than serving their constituents, and those who fail to support their party are crushed.

Social Change

The rapidly changing social climate of the 1980s frames the specific attention to financial matters. While focusing on Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, Churchill brings in US and South American elements. The American’s predatory acquisition of British companies, including the rapid shift to Soat’s victory over Corman, represents a broader shift to the entrepreneurial spirit praised in neoliberal political thought. The establishment, old-boy network loses power and influence as money gains ground. As women maximize their opportunities to operate in what had been a man’s world, they succumb to the same vices that drive male ambition.

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