How would it be
Do you think, do you think,
If a giant of men were required to shrink,
If a shaker and mover who loved his own name
Who terrorized armies and reveled in fame
Were forced to live simply, obscurely, and sad,
Assuming, of course, he did not first go mad?
I would be curious, and yet if it were so,
I doubt that the world and I ever would know.
MPAA rating: PG
Sometimes a film is blessed by perfection in casting. Ian Holm is such an ideal Napoleon Bonaparte, both in talent and height, that he’s played “the little corporal” three separate times, in the mini-series Napoleon and Love, in Time Bandits, and lastly in The Emperor’s New Clothes, a semi-comedic revisionist account of Napoleon’s post-exile days based on a Simon Leys novel.
We all know Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena after the Battle of Waterloo, but what we don’t know (supposedly) is that he switched places with a deckhand lookalike (also played by Holm) and escaped back to France. Why do we not know such a story? Because the plan failed in complete secrecy. While the fake Napoleon enjoyed being famous and pampered a bit too much, the real one endured the yoke of obscurity only to find unexpected appeal in the romance of a simple life, one that didn’t involve conquering the European mainland.
The Emperor’s New Clothes could have been a stronger film and doesn’t inject its clever concept with as much humor as I would expect or hope, but it’s a satisfying one even so. While strong supporting roles are filled by Iben Hjejle as Napoleon’s love interest and Tim McInnerney as her jealous suitor, Holm in his double role is the star of the show.
At first, his Napoleon grumbles over the injustice of his lack of recognition and support, but once he accepts it, he becomes what Napoleon might have been without his despotic mindset, still a brilliant strategist but one bent on less militant pursuits, like distinguishing himself as the best melon salesman in Paris. Yet if you don’t think that the real Napoleon would give up his ambition so easily, the film doesn’t either and offers a hauntingly persuasive twist to make his acceptance and the story as a whole more credible. While the revisionist theory could have had a more humorous bent to it, The Emperor’s New Clothes brings Napoleon Bonaparte down to a relatable level and gives him a far more fulfilling fate than his real-life counterpart.
Best line: (Napoleon, preparing to leave St. Helena) “Six years of English cooking… six years of staring at these dreary walls… and at your gloomy face. You’re quite ugly, did you know that? I haven’t had the heart to tell you.” (Louis) “Yes, sire.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2016 S.G. Liput
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