The Emperor's New Clothes

  • Film
  • Period and swashbuckler films

In the beginning... A father uses a Kinetoscope to tell his son a fabulous story about the fate of Napoleon. Flashback to St Helena, 1821, as a strutting Bonaparte (Holm) hatches an ingenious plot to escape from British-imposed exile by means of a double, and reclaim France. A hazardous sea crossing later, he announces his return only to be scorned as a madman. Thus the bones of director Taylor's adaptation of Simon Leys' novel, The Death of Napoleon, a clever if hardly plausible historical fantasy. Those expecting a rousing costumer should look elsewhere. Taylor aims for the same gentle dramatic irony applied more successfully in his American film Palookaville. Holm actor has a lot of fun with Boney's impish double, who screws the plan by first refusing to give up his adopted airs and graces and then dropping dead. But his Bonaparte is a bridge too far: after the escape, the story requires him slowly to discard his tricorn-crowned sense of destiny and clothe himself in lowly merchant's garb as he falls for melon-selling single parent Pumpkin (Hjejle). One minute he's organising her workmates like the cavalry at Austerlitz, the next he's pressing his claim at a back window of the Palais de Justice like a helpless member of the unemployed. A scene in an asylum filled with declaiming Napoleons epitomises the film's strained pathos.

Release details

Duration: 107 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Alan Taylor
Screenwriter: Kevin Molony, Alan Taylor, Herbie Wave
Cast: Ian Holm
Iben Hjejle
Tim McInnerny
Nigel Terry
Hugh Bonneville
Murray Melvin
Eddie Marsan
Clive Russell
George Harris