Film Reviews: Wednesday, July 11, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Ian Holm develops a Napoleon complex in The Emperor’s New Clothes.

By KRISTIAN LIN

In Woody Allen’s 1975 comedy Love and Death, he played a 19th-century Russian peasant who decided to assassinate Napoleon to end the war ravaging his homeland. The idea of involving the Corsican general turned French emperor in a comedy worked much better for Allen than it does for the makers of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Ian Holm plays Napoleon, who, in 1821, has been in exile on the island of St. Helena for six years when his cohorts hatch a plot to restore him to the French throne. They’re going to replace him with a double (also played by Holm) while smuggling the real Napoleon off the island and onto a ship that’ll take him to France. However, as the boat takes a detour and the emperor’s forced to make his way to Paris from Antwerp by himself, the double decides that he likes life in well-heeled exile and refuses to reveal himself as an impostor as per the plan. While Napoleon’s friends plead with the double, the real man bides his time with Nicole (Iben Hjejle), the widow of a recently deceased co-conspirator. She’s nicknamed “Pumpkin,” makes her living selling fruit on the street, and knows nothing about the plot. The former conqueror of continental Europe falls for her.

The movie’s adapted from a novel by Simon Leys, and its story has the makings of a fizzy comic opera. It’s disappointing, then, that instead we get a fuzzy drama about a guy who has to let go of his dreams of world conquest to win the woman he loves. Director Alan Taylor treats the film as an autumnal romance in a period setting. That’s fine, except that he directs with a singular lack of comic snap. The picture’s long dull stretches sap its energy, and there are only a few mild chuckles to alleviate matters. There’s one rousing bit where Napoleon rallies Nicole and her fellow fruit vendors by applying military strategy to help them drum up business, but even then Taylor ruins it by drowning out the words with Rachel Portman’s swelling “inspirational” music. A scene in which Napoleon gets into an insane asylum and finds all the inmates convinced that they’re Napoleon is effective enough, but it comes too late to re-ignite our interest.

Interestingly enough, Holm played Napoleon more than 20 years ago in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits. His Napoleon here comes off as a nice old man who’s seen his best days, but then he’s just delivering what the script demands of him. Danish actress Hjejle (High Fidelity) seems somewhat polished for a fruit seller, but she’s sweetly engaging. Real chemistry between these two would have saved this film, but they don’t have it. It’s not just the age difference between them; they’re both too well-mannered here to strike any sparks off each other, so the romance is dim. Like the old soldier at its center, The Emperor’s New Clothes just fades away.


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