Movie Reviews
12:44 pm
Mon July 15, 2002

The Emperor's New Clothes

This is good old-fashioned romance, history, and fiction all in one small but unforgettable film,...

In 1821, on St. Helena, Napoleon loyalists switch the emperor with a look-alike ship hand and send the little tyrant secretly off to Paris to revive the Old Order. I love improbable movies like "The Emperor's New Clothes," especially the docudramas that feed our lust to know the insides of great figures.

You may not know Ian Holm's Napoleon that well because Holm concentrates more on the mannerisms than the script. Yet the best lines are good, such as when the emperor, disguised as a seaman, boards a ship and says, "A position above decks would have been more appropriate." Or when his love interest, Pumpkin, responds after he tells her his true identity: "You're not Napoleon! I hate Napoleon! He has filled France with widows and orphans! He took my husband. I won't let him take you." There are truths there to make a revolution.

Our hero tries his hand at selling melons, marshalling his crew with his great leadership rhetoric, and wins the love of Pumpkin, her son, and himself after 6 years of humiliating, loveless exile.

When the film opens with the young son showing colored slides of the emperor's life on a primitive projector, you can feel the romance and the warmth for the rest of the film. When you wake with Napoleon on ship to see a stunning sunrise, you know Alessio Gelsini Torresi is a cinematographer worth watching.

This sweet film, softly extolling the grandeur of simple love, takes it final cue from Candide, where that weary traveler laid his weary heart in his garden. This Napoleon had said, "I place my trust in only two things: my will and the love of the people of France." He finds now a redemptive will to survive and, without egotism or violence, a love of one person to satisfy an empire.

This is good old-fashioned romance, history, and fiction all in one small but unforgettable film, a bit like the subject himself.