In the days of the British Empire, London served as the world’s most impressive financial center. As the empire began its decline, anti-colonial sentiment became more rampant and greater numbers of British territories began to strive for independence. The financial stronghold of its capital city began to deteriorate as well. The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire recounts how the country transformed to become a global financial power in the face of these challenges, and how their continued prominence shapes the world we live in today.
The City of London banking network began constructing a web of overseas jurisdictions in the wake of the empire’s demise, and hid these monies offshore where they were sheltered from meaningful outside scrutiny. They started to indulge in unregulated forms of lending using U.S. currency. This wealth was accumulated through any means necessary, including a laundry list of nefarious acts of fraud, tax evasion, drugs and arms trading, and additional covert operations. It’s a system rife with corruption. Some of the money was stripped from poor countries, depriving these struggling economies of their capacity for badly needed growth and infrastructure development.
Throughout the film, we are presented with a tale of two Londons. One is the bustling epicenter much romanticized by the United States and other parts of the world while the other is a freewheeling market run by elite business players who cleverly shirk the gaze of international financial regulations.
“In Britain, bankers are a protected species,” confesses one interview subject who is part of a chorus of whistle-blowers, financial insiders and social justice activists who populate the film. We are told that as much as $50 trillion dollars reside in overseas accounts that act as tax havens; many of the most robust of these havens are British.
The end result is a system that works to benefit the wealthiest individuals. Meanwhile, the hard-working taxpaying citizens continue to struggle and suffer.
Featuring a collage of authentic newsreel footage and insights from a team of top financial investigators, The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire is immaculately researched and well presented portrait of a complex global conspiracy.
Directed by: Michael Oswald