When Braing's Bank offer a clerk the opportunity to go to Jakarta, then set up a branch in Singapore, he seizes it. Financial constraints lead to his making short cuts and eventually, losses. After the death of his unborn child he loses it completely and starts gambling with the bank's money, leading to complete bancruptcy.
For anyone who was orbiting Mars in 1995, futures trader Nick Leeson achieved instant notoriety when it was announced that he had lost countless millions of his employer's spondulix on the Far Eastern financial markets. Barings, the City Of London's 200-year-old merchant bank was completely buggered.
If we are to believe the film's storyline, a combination of eagerness to please, monstrous ambition, and a gambler's trust in Lady Luck lead the Watford barrow-boy to bullshit and bamboozle massive figures out of the stuffed shirts at the top, incurring huge losses yet still managing to appear - on paper, anyway - like the bank's money-spinning golden boy.
It is a credit to McGregor's dynamic and infectious central performance that his powers of persuasion and deception are equally convincing to the audience. The pairing with Friel as Leeson's wife Lisa makes a hesitant start, but their wide-eyed, cheesy-grinned rapport has an undeniable ring of truth.
Unfortunately, the film itself is perilously slow, caught between a necessity to explain the complexities of the futures markets and the need to add momentum, suspense and excitement to a story whose outcome is already foretold and whose subject matter is more suited to a TV mini-series.
Indeed, it would be fair to say that the first third, airless and starved of atmosphere, feels like being trapped in a lift with just a copy of the Financial Times for company. As the action evolves, you get a nice sense of time running out - the incessantly ringing phones going unanswered, the figures running up and the walls coming down - but all too late in the day.
The pace is slow, the film only really picking up right towards the end, with too little, too late, but a dynamic central performance from McGregor keeps you watching.