How the Other Half Live with Brian Cox
Brian Cox: How the Other Half Live with Brian Cox (Channel 5, 9pm)
The actor Brian Cox’s story is one of success, with fame and its accompanying fortune coming ever since his first big-screen role – he was the first actor to portray the character Hannibal Lecktor, in Michael Mann’s 1986 film Manhunter.
These days he is rightly lauded for his ability as a thespian, and is perhaps best known today for his role in HBO’s hit series Succession. In it, he plays Logan Roy, the Dundee-born billionaire founder of a media and entertainment conglomerate – the very epitome of unchecked late-stage capitalist greed.
Cox’s own roots are in Dundee, too, although they were not auspicious. He was the youngest of five children in a working-class Catholic family in one of the more impoverished areas of the city, where his father was a shopkeeper. As the grocer to a poor community, Cox’s father knew that his customers could not always afford the food they needed, and so would give it to them “on tick”; by the time of his death, when Cox was just eight years old, his father had just £10 in the bank.
This leaves Cox uniquely placed to comment on the vast disparity of wealth in today’s society – a gap that just keeps growing.
His own life has known both poverty and wealth, and on screen he has portrayed people from even more extreme ends of the spectrum.
That’s what makes this programme – as opposed to the countless other programmes on the BBC and elsewhere on the same subject – so worthwhile. Channel 5 may have its own problems when it comes to portraying the working classes (Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away, Rich House, Poor House, The Nightmare Neighbour Next Door – need we go on?) this does promise a different perspective on the causes and effects of the crisis that is the widening poverty gap.
This, as Cox explains while telling his own story, is his mission to remove his fear of poverty and to untangle the knotty issue of money and happiness.
For this last point, he visits Ozwald Boateng tailors on Savile Row where he meets social media star Kiddwaya – who reveals that money is a burden as well as a privilege, shedding light on Brian’s own complicated feelings about wealth and inheritance.
Cox’s own family was thrust into destitution with the death of his father. Ever since, he has viewed his anxiety over money as a “sword of Damocles” hanging over his head.
The episode begins, however, in Miami, which has enjoyed/endured a massive property boom and today seems like a playground of the rich. Here he meets two women whose lives have been changed for ever by this boom: Senada used to work for Donald Trump and now makes millions on every house sale she closes; Elsa meanwhile is being evicted from her home to make way for more luxury apartments and condos.
Hardly surprising that the wealth gap is so polarising: it literally divides people into those who win on the turn of a market, and those who lose.