Ambitious, wide-eyed boy Nick Leeson (Ewan McGregor) is determined to rise in the world and be more than a simple bank clerk. When his employers, Barings Bank, offer him the opportunity to go to Jakarta, Indonesia to sort out a problem that nobody else wants, he seizes the opportunity with both hands.
In Jakarta, he meets and marries Lisa (Anna Friel), and together they go to Singapore when the bank offers him the job of setting up their future options trading operation. To save money, the bank allows Nick to operate the floor trading and the back office facilities, and force him to employ cheap, unskilled staff. His first year of trading is a big success, and he makes large profits for the bank, even though he has illegally broken trading rules and secretly covered up losses. Given more freedom, even more money, and continuing unchecked, Nick starts to make losses, and again attempts to trade out of them, but this time he comes unstuck as his illegal trading generates even bigger losses. After the death of his unborn child, Nick completely loses control and gambles without restraint with other people’s money leading inevitably to a complete financial meltdown, and the bankruptcy of the bank.
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