On the surface, the December movie All the Money In the World and the new FX drama, Trust, out March 25, are about the exact same topic: the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, and his grandfather's refusal to pay the $17 million ransom. J. Paul Getty, the richest man in the world at the time, is played in both works by stodgy old men. His grandson, John Paul Getty III, is a long-haired hippie. The Italian backdrop gleams.
Though they have pretty much everything in common (including setting and plot), there's one major difference between Trust and All the Money in the World that inevitably changes your perspective on the story and its characters. Did John Paul Getty III plan his own kidnapping to extort money from his grandfather, or was he caught completely off guard? Trust and All the Money in the World have different answers to that question.
Namely, in All the Money In the World, John Paul Getty III is a complete innocent. In the early morning hours of July 10, 1973, Getty is kidnapped in Rome's Piazza Farnese, transported to a cave in Calabria, and held captive for months. But in Trust, John Paul Getty III sees the kidnapping coming. He's passive, and walks to the kidnappers' sedan willingly. Clearly, Getty is in on the plan to reap from his grandfather's fortune.
Simon Beaufoy, the writer and executive producer of Trust, explained why he chose to make his John Paul III an active participant in his own kidnapping. "It became clear reading between the lines that he actually kidnapped himself,” Beaufoy said during a panel at the Television Critics Association. “It was a hoax gone wrong…He’d run up a debt, quite a large debt, and couldn’t repay it.”
Essentially, Beaufoy "read between the lines" of Getty's story, and created Trust — a show loosely based on reality. In the show, John Paul III visits his grandfather, who he hasn't seen in years, and eventually asks for money to settle a mafia debt. The elder Getty, having taken a liking to his smart but rebellious grandson, offers him a job at Getty Oil instead. After a conflict with his grandfather, John Paul III must return to Italy, and enact his own plan.
There is historical precedent for Beaufoy's interpretation. Soon after John Paul III was kidnapped, his mother, Gail Harris, received a letter that said, "Dear Mummy, since Monday I have fallen into the hands of kidnappers. Don’t let me be killed.” But since John Paul had joked about faking his own kidnapping in the past, some of his relatives and the police department wrote the letter off as a hoax. Getty, too, may have been hesitant to pay for the ransom because he thought it was all a scam.
Even if Trust suggests that John Paul orchestrated his own kidnapping at first, the show makes it clear that his plan went off the rails once his grandfather refused to pay. At that point, he was held in the Calabrian mountain cave against his will.
The real John Paul was in captivity until December 15, about five months after he was snatched from Rome. In November, the captors' tactics grew more gruesome. John Paul's severed ear was sent in an envelope to the offices of an Italian newspaper with the message, "This is Paul's ear. If we don't get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Eventually, John Paul was released after his grandfather agreed to pay $3 million in ransom money.
This experience — whether it began as a hoax or a veritable kidnapping — had lifelong repercussions for John Paul. He became addicted to alcohol and drugs. At 25, he suffered a stroke triggered by a combination of drugs. The stroke left him paralyzed in all four limbs and incapable of speech. He lived in his mother's care until his death at age 54 in 2011.