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The Emperor's New Clothes

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Emperor's New Clothes

Starring: Ian Holm, Tim McInnerny
Director: Alan Taylor
Rated: PG
RunTime: 107 Minutes
Release Date: March 2002
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Iben Hjejle, Alan Taylor, Nigel Terry, Clive Russell, Hugh Bonneville, Eddie Marsan

Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

What would you rather be: an ordinary guy, maybe a shopkeeper but with a beautiful woman who loves you, or a major player on the world scene, possibly with women chasing after you but none who really connect with you? In "The Emperor's New Clothes," Alan Taylor's imaginative retelling of the days of Napoleon after his defeat at Waterloo, the 5'6" hero of France trades places with a drunken commoner in a successful escape from the island of St. Helena where he is guarded by a small company of British troops. His plan is to land in Paris and yet again rally the tricolor in an attempt to restore the French Empire in Europe. Plans go awry, but perhaps the best known figure of the Bonaparte clan gets more than he ever hoped for when he finds the woman of his dreams.

Backed with a spirited soundtrack by Rachel Portman and photographed on the island of Malta with scenes from the noted Cinecitta studio, "The Emperor's New Clothes" lets fantasy fly in a trading-places parody in which one man goes from rags to riches while another tumbles the opposite way. How the real Napoleon (who in this fable does not die of a stomach disease in 1821) ultimately relinquishes all hope for a resurgence of nationalism and is all the happier for doing so, is the subject of the movie which is taken from Simon Leys novel "The Death of Napoleon."

NYU Film School graduate Alan Taylor, whose first feature, "Palookaville," is a whimsical look at three friends and their foray into petty crime, scores once again the second time around with a stab at historical revisionism. Napoleon (Ian Holm) stands about on a rock in St. Helena overlooking crystal clear water but in no way shares the ecstasy of the tourist. Determined to escape from the troops in his airy prison, he sets up a double (played as well by Ian Holm), a fellow by the name of Eugene who has to learn to walk and talk in an imperial way to convince the guards that he is in fact the emperor. While Napoleon makes his way via Belgium to Paris, he meets the lovely, newly widowed Pumpkin (Dutch actress Iben Hjejle) and her son Gerard (Tom Watson). Though the impoverished seller of melons, Pumpkin, is pursued by Dr. Lambert (Tim McInnerny), she is smitten by the short man whom she accepts as eccentric. The only troops that Napoleon succeeds in rousing are the neighborhood fruit vendors, with whom he establishes an intricate plan of action to triple their business. As his grandiose plan falls apart, Taylor milks the principal comic action from Eugene's refusal to turn himself in as an imposter, now insisting that he is actually the emperor and enjoying his about face from a man with a mop to the exiled leader of France.

"The Emperor's New Clothes" is in no way the sort of comedy that Moliere would write. The film's joy comes from its quiet humor, its moments of realistic romance and poignant disappointments, its affirmation of the gratifications of serendipitous developments. Napoleon may have found a wife in Josephine, but to his wholly unexpected surprise he finds authentic love in his declining year that of an ordinary human being for another..

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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