LFF REVIEW: ‘Industry’ (2020) is an Entertaining but Flawed Financial Drama

Rating: 3 out of 5.

“Excels at putting the audience in the moment but lacks urgency and depth”

The latest BBC and HBO co-production takes us inside the world of finance through the eyes of young, talented graduates. Industry shows us what we already know about successful bankers and investors- they are usually egotistical individuals fuelled by sex, drugs and power – but the show attempts to explore more current issues: such as being a woman in a male-dominated workplace, and the morality of capitalism. Judging by the first, second and fourth episodes shown, Industry excels at putting the audience in the moment, but lacks urgency and depth.

An ensemble cast of graduates have each earned a place at Pierpoint & Co: an international investment bank based in London. In their induction, however, it is made explicitly clear that they are competing for a limited number of permanent positions – so they will have to work hard and work smart to survive. Even amongst the ensemble there is a clear-cut protagonist: Harper (Myha’la Herrold) – the brightest and most promising of the graduates who has come from The States in hopes of being the best in the industry. Or so we assume. It is not really clear what the motivations of each character are, but thankfully the characters and individual scenes are engaging enough to keep audiences invested.

Two women (Myha'la Herrold and Marisa Abela) in business attire walk down a street in a financial distrcit of London, looking up towards something. From 'Industry'
Image courtesy of Bad Wolf Productions

The show does a great job of the moment-to-moment action. Most of the action takes place on the trading floor: a bustling area where deals are made, alliances are formed and tense conflict takes place. The handheld camerawork is good, but the sound design in particular is great – there is always an intriguing conversation just within earshot, or a hilarious, profanity-laden rant blasting out. Over the first couple of episodes the show takes its time to get the audience familiar with the cast: as well as Harper there is the delightful but repressed Yasmin (Marisa Abela), the hard-partying Robert (Harry Lawtey), workaholic Hari (Nabhaan Rizwan) and the arrogant Gus (David Jonsson). Much like Harper, however, we see and understand their characteristics and personalities but don’t get a sense of their motivations, other than wanting a full-time job at Pierpoint. The cast all do a good job at bringing their characters to life, especially Herrold who flits between confident and composed to fearful and desperate. Outside of the workplace there is a lot of sex and drugs – a means for the characters to release the stress from the day or to feed their egos. The show is an honest look into the lives of these young people in and out of work, and their relationships with each other are compelling, even if some act as major sub-plots that tend to drag.

Whilst the first and second episodes focus more on character and less on plot, the fourth picks up the pace in a genuinely thrilling episode. The danger of losing their chance at a permanent position becomes apparent for one of the characters and, with time against them, the show easily creates tension and high stakes. The mounting pressure also pulls out great performances and interesting narrative beats. Even when characters use jargon and terminology that most audiences won’t understand, the performances and technical craft sell the rising conflict. Hopefully there are other episodes like it. Industry’s biggest problem is this lack of urgency in the overall story. This initial concept of graduates competing for jobs should make for interesting conflict between the characters, but the concept isn’t really addressed so far. There is even an event in the first episode that shows how high the stakes really are, but the show hasn’t reached that level since. Each episode meanders between character moments and ideas touched upon only at surface-level: like when Yasmin is briefly confronted by a student at an open day about the way women are treated in the financing world, and Yasmin simply shoots down her argument with not much explanation.

Industry is at its best within singular scenes and moments: it pulls you into the character’s worlds thanks to engaging performances, decent technical craft and some really great writing. The fourth episode is the standout so far because of the stakes and threat missing from the other episodes but if the rest of the series continues with this momentum and urgency, then Industry has the chance to become one of the better shows of 2020.

Created by: Mickey Down, Konrad Kay

Produced by: Lena Dunham, Mickey Down, Konrad Kay, Jane Tranter, Lachlan MacKinnon, Ryan Rasmussen

Cast: Myha’la Herrold, Marisa Abela, Harry Lawtey, David Jonsson, Nabhaan Rizwan, Freya Mavor, Ken Leung

Available on: HBO and BBC Two from November 9th 2020

Header image courtesy of Bad Wolf Productions