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Promo poster

View Date: July 16th, 2002

Rating: ($$$ out of $$$$$)


Ian Holm Napoleon Bonaparte/Eugene Lenormand
Iben Hjejle Pumpkin
Tim McInnerny Dr. Lambert
Tom Watson Gerard
Nigel Terry Montholon
Hugh Bonneville Bertrand
Murray Melvin Antommarchi
Eddie Marsan Marchand
Clive Russell Bommel
Bob Mason Captain Nicholls
Trevor Cooper Leaud
Chris Langham Maurice
Russell Dixon Dr. Quinton
George Harris Papa Nicholas
Hayley Carmichael Adele Raffin

Directed by:
Alan Taylor

Written by:
(novel: The Death of Napoleon)
Simon Leys

Kevin Molony
, Alan Taylor and Herbie Wave

Related Viewings:
Dave (1993)
Young Guns II (1990)
Moon Over Parador (1988)
Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)
Trading Places (1983)

Official Sites:
Emperors New Clothes

Also see my reviews at:


Cast information and links courtesy of logo.gif (2059 bytes)

Go To Reel Rambling Page



Emperor's New Clothes, The

Here in my hometown of Kansas City, there is a doctor who purports that heís been treating Elvis Presley for years and that the King is ready to emerge into the limelight once again.  Reports of Presleyís appearance have been frequent among ardent fans who have spotted him everywhere from doughnut shops to Graceland.  In the early 40ís, an elderly gentleman named Brushy Bill Roberts claimed to be the outlaw Jesse James who was supposedly killed in a poker game 50 years earlier.  Often, the public hangs on to the hope that their heroes, both famous and infamous, have survived their demises and may be walking amongst us incognito.  In The Emperorís New Clothes, director Alan Taylor presents an alternative to the death of one of its most well-known leaders, Napoleon Bonaparte.  While the film establishes a plausible and entertaining story, it too often falls back on tried and true story ideas, loses focus in the second half and then cannot decide on how it wants to end. Aided by a wonderful score by Rachel Portman and a powerful and believable lead performance by Ian Holm, Clothes is a nice period piece that just loses its way towards it feel-good resolution.

History tells us that after his defeat at Waterloo, the British exiled Napoleon to the island of St. Helena, where he then died 5 years later.  But, according to Young, what if history was wrong, or at least what if things didnít exactly happen as we were led to believe.  The story opens with Napoleon regaling his version of the way things happened to a curious young boy.  He is shown as a bitter, vengeful man who believes that his reign is not yet over in France and that he has legions awaiting his return.  He conspires, along with his staff, to have a double take his place on the island while he sneaks back into France.  Since the British watch and report on his condition, he is forced to sneak out in the dark of night and pretend to be a lowly swabbie on a ship headed back to France.  Upon his arrival there, he takes up with Pumpkin,  the widow of one of his soldiers, who believes he is the lowly Eugene, a simple poor, former soldier.  The way the plan works is that the impostor will reveal himself as a fake once Napoleon is safely back in the country, and then Bonaparte believes he will once again rise to power.  Ah how the best laid plans can go astray.  While he is waiting for this to happen, he manages to organize a very strategic plan for produce sales, arousing the suspicion of a doctor (and suitor of Pumpkin).   Suffice to say all does not go as planned, and this is where the movie wanders astray.  The focus becomes a romance with Pumpkin, losing focus on the impostor and falling prey to many typical movie ploys involving jealous lovers and mysterious strangers.  The ending of the movie seems to come about 2 or 3 different times, before finally settling for one that seems a tad too melancholy and preachy in its search for identity and whatís important in life.  Had this film stuck to its historical possibilities, it would have worked much better.  

There are memorable scenes including the aforementioned militarily planned marketing strategy, and a haunting visage in a sanitarium with several faux Bonapartes wandering around.  These show a deeper vision that the film fails to explore towards its conclusion.  Still, there is more to like about this movie than dislike.  Rachel Portman has composed a score that is beautiful and befitting of a empirical effort.  Also, Holm takes the Herculean task of playing yet another diminutive cariacature and carries this film boldly.  As Napoleon and Eugene he tackles the dual roles with his usual meticulous and detailed nature.  Nevermind that everyone in France sounds British, Holm and company give solid performances in a film that deserves a slightly better fate than it gets.

Ultimately, The Emperor's New Clothes is an effective but slightly flawed look at an alternative to one of history's most infamous figures.  Natural curiousity usually generates the hypothesis and scenarios that encompass these type of stories.  We love to wonder "what if" using what we know, combined with what we can imagine.  Taylor has posed an interesting idea here, but gets too tangled up in wrapping things up in a nice, neat, audience friendly package, so the film stumbles a tad.  But thanks to Portman's music, Holm's performance and some genuinely thoughtful and humorous moments, this film is a pleasant surprise amidst a summer of disappointments.

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